Hello all! Intern Connie here again. May crept up didn’t it?! I’m coming up on the end of my last academic semester of my graduate program that I started two years ago, 7 days after walking across the stage at my undergrad graduation and what a whirlwind it has been. These two years have tested me mentally, physically, and very much emotionally. If there’s one thing that’s helped me get through it all and come out with a huge smile (most days) it’s been adopting some more mindful practices. I always thought meditation or mindfulness was some intense, woo-woo thing that would be too difficult for me to get into but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Cultivating mindfulness isn’t one size fits all but rather, whatever size fits you and your life. And really, it’s not woo-woo at all. It’s really just learning to be aware and present in your life. For me, I’ve been practicing 5 things that are helping me root into mindfulness and I wanted to share them in hopes that some of you might relate.
Likely, the first thing that pops into your head first when I say mindfulness is meditation. I promise meditation doesn’t only mean sitting on your floor with legs crossed, candles lit and humming for 2 hours. It could look like that, but it could also look a lot of different ways too. After talking with my therapist, we decided trying out some apps that help me with a short 5-10 minute (even 3 minute) guided meditation that might help calm my nerves and put my racing mind in its place. I was amazed at the calm I felt after just a few minutes of focusing on my breathing and the present moment. Do I get to do this every day? No, but I try to. I find this really helpful in the transition parts of my day. For example, after doing school work for hours and running around as a nanny, I’ll do a short meditation before leaving home for my night class so I can get in my school mindset and refocus. I’ve only tried Headspace as of now, but if you have a favorite app I would love to read about them in the comments!
This one is arguably the hardest thing I’ve had to do and continue doing. As a people pleaser and perfectionist (anyone else?), I immediately felt this wave of guilt through my entire body if I said no to someone asking me to complete a task, hangout, accept a job, etc. I just hate saying no, but what I realized is that really, I hate potentially disappointing people. Saying yes all the time has led to an over-worked and exhausted state both mentally and physically and I am now learning how to set boundaries and heal myself physically and emotionally. I turn 24 in exactly a month and my intention for this next year is to focus on what’s good for me, not everyone else that walks into my life. Obviously I still cherish my loved ones, commitments, and passions but what I’m saying is I want to really think about my answer to things that are asked of me. I want to be responsive vs reactive. Are these things going to be fulfilling for me and do I truly want to do this thing or am I just saying yes because I like to make everyone happy? You can’t make everyone happy and not everyone is going to like you. Those two things are the cold hard truth.
I have just begun to understand that my time is valuable. I know, depending on how you look at, it I’m either late or early to that realization. But for too long I put myself last and I want to move myself up the line in the most non-selfish (or healthily selfish?) way possible. In order to give something – our time, our words, our money – we must care for ourselves first.
Chunking My Time
This is something that Robyn has taught me actually. I only check my email in the early morning with my cup(s) of coffee, around lunch time, and around 6 pm and then I’m done. I’m slowly making that a thing for Instagram too because if I have a day where I’m just on it whenever I get distracted or bored, my mind starts to race with the “why am I not like them”, “they have better pictures than me”, “I’m not good enough” negative self talk and I know that’s not healthy. And so that means checking social media continually is out. Chunking my time and giving myself a few minutes to respond to DMs and comments is way better for my mental health and I feel much more productive during the day. Additionally, I chunk my study time now with 30 minutes on and 10 minutes off for as long as I have time for or until I mentally can’t take it anymore. This helps me stay focused and on task and I get SO much more done this way.
Planning Things That Make Me Smile
This sort of goes along with the saying no paragraph but it’s also sort of the opposite. I’ve been saying YES to myself or other people/things that make me smile and that I truly enjoy doing. I’ll even say yes if I think it will make me happy but if it doesn’t, I just use that experience to make decisions going forward rather than dwell on it. Happy hour with my best friend on a random day of the week? Yes! Planning a month long stay in Chicago because that city houses some of my favorite friends, places and things, and my wonderful grandparents? Yes!
I’m doing more that puts a big fat, cheesy smile on my face versus things that I feel like I should be doing. I don’t need to grind through my days. My level of content right now is at a place where it hasn’t been in a while and I want to keep doing things that cultivate happiness. I don’t want to live up to expectations that I perceive people have for me or do things that I think I should be doing. Instead, I want to just go with my gut and my heart and let life follow suit. This intention takes a lotta prayer.
Telling Myself The Facts
Any self doubters out there? Yeah, I’m with you! As a human we have these complex brains that are filled with wonderful thoughts, but also some really inaccurate ones too called thinking errors. These are things like All or Nothing Thinking, Mind Reading, and Fortune Telling – just to name a few. My achilles heel is catastrophizing, or making things seem WAY worse than they really are. For example, if I get a text from someone with a “…” in it, for some reason I’m like HOLD UP DID I DO SOMETHING WRONG?! Do they hate me? Why are they leaving me hanging?
Stuff like that. Isn’t that insane? Dramatic? From one “…” my thoughts go flying. That’s just one example but I’ll take an encounter in my personal life – like a date or in my professional life – like meeting a super successful RD that I look up to, and blow it out of proportion thinking that they think the worst of me for absolutely no reason. So, I’ve learned to talk back to those negative thoughts and just look at the facts. I assess the situation from outside my head rather than in it. It’s hard work, but it allows me to be so much more calm, present and mindful in my life. Ahhh, mindfulness. I can be mindful that those negative things I’m thinking are unlikely and catastrophic and instead observe and tell myself everything that happened and MOVE ON. That frees up a lot of mental space to just be, rather than having that hamster wheel running all the time in there.
So there you have it. Five things I’m working on to be more mindful in my life as an almost 24 year old and 2/3 a registered dietitian. I am in no way an expert on any of this nor am I even a semi put together human. Some days, despite doing all of these things, I still have anxiety attacks. I still cry. And I still doubt myself. That’s part of the human experience. But I hope in that sharing my experience, it encourages you to practice being kinder to yourself too. Because health isn’t just about the food we eat and the movement we do. It’s about how we treat ourselves and talk to ourselves, which in turn translates to how we treat others.