When was the last time you got through your to-do list? Yesterday? Last month? Sometime before Covid? With lockdown came this mystical idea of us having extra time on our hands to do more and be more productive: finally write that novel; upcycle that old piece of furniture; or even just do that extra bit of reading to get ahead on the big project at work. For many of us, that hasn’t been the case and the pressures on us have intensified.
We all need a break, but time is going so fast and there’s so much to do. It feels like we don’t have the time. But we do, we just need to allow ourselves a few minutes to take stock of our thoughts and feelings and focus on our wellbeing. A short time out can help us reset, refocus and make better use of our time. This month’s post offers a short, simple, mindfulness technique that can help us increase our efficiency: The wellbeing breather.
How mindfulness can support our wellbeing
Mindfulness-based interventions can be effective in reducing stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, pain and improving quality of life. Mindfulness has been shown to improve wellbeing by addressing cognitive and emotional reactivity and reducing repetitive negative thinking. That is, mindfulness can help us clear our minds, make more rational decisions and feel better about ourselves.
When things feel like they are piling up on top of us, mindfulness can help us regulate ourselves better and feel more positive. If we are aware of what is taking place in the here and now, we are more likely to make choices and behave in ways that meet our needs, interests and values. Therefore, being mindful of what’s going on for us in the moment can improve our wellbeing.
The wellbeing breather
Mindfulness can help us see the present moment clearly and starts with taking notice of our bodily sensations, thoughts and feelings. That’s what this month’s activity is all about, taking notice of what we are thinking and feeling and channelling our energy, so we have the headspace to focus on what we really need to.
The wellbeing breather is a variation of the Transitional Pause, developed by the Mindfulness Centre of Excellence. Over the last three years since I first tried this activity, I have really benefitted from taking a short time out to acknowledge how I am feeling and set a small, manageable goal for the rest of the day.
The purpose of the wellbeing breather is to help us park any overwhelming thoughts and focus on the next task at hand. A key feature of this mindful activity is to silently name our thoughts so we can increase our awareness of them, which is beneficial for our wellbeing. It can help with:
- Overcoming anxiety about difficult tasks or meetings
- Setting aside negative thoughts that are intruding on our day
- Channelling our energy to get things done more efficiently
Here’s how to do the wellbeing breather. If it’s easier, you can listen to this audio recording to guide you through the exercise.
- You can do this activity sitting or standing. If you are sitting, make sure you are seated comfortably with a straight back and your head, neck and shoulders feeling as if they are neatly stacked on top of each other. You want to be comfortable but attentive. If you are standing, plant your feet firmly on the ground so you feel balanced and grounded. Keep your back straight and position your head, neck and shoulders so they feel neatly aligned.
- Soften your gaze, or if you feel comfortable, close your eyes.
- Acknowledge how you are feeling right now. What’s happened in the last 24 hours? What positive things have happened? What’s bothering you? If it’s something that happened more than a day ago, that’s ok. It’s important to acknowledge our positive and negative experiences.
- Has anything happened in the last 24 hours that has played on your mind? If so, take a moment to silently name it. Now you’ve named it, recognise how it made you feel. Try and name the thoughts and emotions you experienced. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Let’s move on to the here and now. Take some time to notice your body. Start with your feet on the floor. Notice the feeling of the floor on your toes, balls of your feet and heels. Notice other parts of your body that are touching each other or objects in the room. Where are your hands resting? How do they feel? If you can feel any tension in your body, draw your awareness to it.
- If your focus turns to your thoughts, that’s ok. Acknowledge it and return to focusing on your body.
- Turn your attention to your breathing. As you breathe in through your nose, notice the air entering your nostrils and filling your lungs. As you breathe out, feel the movement through your body and the air leaving your mouth. Continue to focus on your breathing. If you become aware of your thoughts, that’s ok. Acknowledge your thoughts and then turn your focus back to your breathing.
- Let’s start thinking about what’s happening next in our day and the day ahead. How are you feeling about what’s coming up? Whether it’s positive, negative or mixed feelings, take a moment to silently name them. Take one deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- What is one thing you hope to achieve today? It may be something specific like to complete a task, or it may be something broader like acceptance or patience. Silently name it and make a pledge to yourself to work towards it. Take another deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Open your eyes or refocus your gaze. Centre yourself back in the room and take one last deep breath to ready yourself for the rest of the day.
The workbook for the wellbeing breather encourages you to reflect on how you feel after completing it. Why not take a few minutes to consider how you feel immediately after the exercise, then take a few minutes later in the day to reflect on the impact it had on the rest of your day. This, plus the activity should take no longer than 15 minutes.
I’d love to hear how you get on with the wellbeing breather and what effect it has on your wellbeing. Please do get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or comment in the box below.
I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram in between monthly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms to keep up to date.