by Miriam Henke, M Psych (Health)
Have you had the experience of commenting to someone, “The year is going by so fast!” or “It feels like time is speeding up!” You probably have and then wondered why that’s the case. Why do you think we experience a speeding up of time? Is it a genuine acceleration of the earth rotating around the sun? Or a reflection on our human experience of time?
It’s probably the latter. We’re well into the 21st Century now, and as our modern life has evolved and changed, so has our relationship with life and time. We’re probably the busiest we’ve ever been. Juggling work, study, social life, family commitments, caring responsibilities, exercise, sleep, domestic chores, cooking and eating food, hobbies, leisure and recreation, volunteering…the list goes on. That’s a whole lot of ‘doing’ and not much ‘being’. Long to-do lists, worrying about the future, trying to keep other people happy (or at least off our backs), doing lots of things we don’t enjoy, and dropping self-care down to the bottom of the priority list in the process.
Sadly, this is a recipe for stress, burnout, health issues, relationship strain, anxiety and generally unhappiness/discontent with life.
The way we experience time is directly related to how we relate to time. Is time the way you structure your life? Probably. Is time what you use to know what to do and when? Do you ever just sit and be with yourself, without doing anything in particular, and forget about time altogether? If not, then this article is definitely relevant to you.
As a psychologist, I regularly treat people who are stressed out, burnout and finding their mental or physical health suffering as a consequence. Most of those people experience anxiety, criticise themselves for not doing more or for struggling when it seems everyone else is coping with life just fine, and rely on achievement to make them feel good about themselves. When I ask “What do you do for relaxation?” or “Tell me about your self-care strategies”, they’ll often react with some embarrassment or sheepishness, and tell me something like “I know I should relax and look after myself but I can’t/don’t know how to.”
Our bodies and minds depend on “down time”, fun and pleasant activities, relaxation and self-care to function properly. Without enough of it, our minds and bodies start to disconnect from each other and they both begin to suffer. When we are stressed, we activate the Sympathetic Nervous System (part of the Autonomic Nervous System), which is responsible for your body’s fight-or-flight reaction. Being chronically stressed puts the body into a constant fight-or-flight state which over time creates inflammation and compromises the body’s regulation systems. When we relax, we activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System and our high energy functions slow to allow the body to go into a healing and restorative mode.
To make time slow down, and also allow your mind and body to become healthier, here are some useful techniques to try:
Incorporate mindfulness skills into your every day life (e.g. eating, showering, driving), by following this simple technique:
- Start by bringing your attention to the sensations in your body.
- Breathe in through your nose, allowing the air to move downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully. Then breathe out through your mouth. Notice the sensations of each inhalation and exhalation.
- Proceed with the task at hand slowly and with full deliberation.
- Engage your senses fully. Notice each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every sensation.
- When you notice that your mind has wandered from what you are doing, gently bring your attention back to the sensations of the moment.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
There is ample evidence that mindfulness practices, including meditation (formal practice) and mindful moments (informal practice). Mindfulness meditation involves disciplining your mind to stay in the present moment, by returning it whenever it wanders or gets distracted. Let go of the idea of having “no thoughts”, that’s not the purpose of the exercise, but rather just being still with yourself for a few minutes, connecting your mind into your body and being in the present moment.
Here’s a basic mindfulness meditation exercise:
- Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor.
- Focus on an aspect of your breathing, such as the sensation of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and ideas.
- Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it as good or bad. If your mind starts to race, return your focus to your breathing. Then expand your awareness again.
Is there any way you can reduce some of the busyness of your life? Can you build in some more down time, relaxation, recreation and self-care? Sometimes we need to schedule this time into our calendars to make it happen. If that’s what you need to do, then do it. Then when the time comes, keep it a high priority (the dishes and laundry CAN wait) and commit yourself to slowing everything down during your precious ‘me’ time.
Ideally, see if you can:
- Do 5-10 minutes of mindfulness practice each day
- Have 20-30 minutes of quality relaxation time each day
- Enjoy 3-4 fun or pleasant activities each week (e.g. social catch ups, hobbies, reading, getting a massage, etc.)
- Have one day a month where there is nothing scheduled and just take the day as it comes
- Be in the outdoors for at least 2 hours a week where you attend to your senses and let go of your life’s cares
- Keep worrying and future planning to at most 30 minutes a day (Worry Time)
If a lot of your time and energy is taken up with caring for others, or pleasing others, it may be time to confront your fears about saying no to people. I know you probably have things you have to do (as in, you have responsibilities for children or elderly parents), but there is probably some wriggle room in those things you think you have to do, but are really you choosing to do them to please others, avoid conflict or make you feel more worthy. If this touches a sensitive place for you, then know there are ways of overcoming this limitation so you can free up more of your time and energy for you. Your mental and physical health is important, and you may need to say no more to others, so you can say yes more to self-care.
Can you make time slow down? Give these techniques a try and tell me what you discover in the process.