Mindfulness and the Myth of Multitasking

~Jennifer Christensen

Do you ever find yourself doing two things at once (or three or four)?  The velocity of information and technology-enabled task management has made our lives more complicated than ever.  Gone are the days when we just stirred the soup without listening to television, radio or talking on the phone at the same time. It’s great to be connected, but this level of connectivity can also bring greater levels of stress and anxiety.

Originally grounded in the Buddhist practice, the notion of mindfulness as an antidote for stress has reached beyond trendy yoga studios to the fields of medicine, education and mainstream corporate America.

The research of scientist Jon Kabat-Zinn has largely contributed to this evolution. Kabat-Zinn, a professor emeritus of medicine and the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, found positive changes in brain activity and in immune function in people taking Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. His work, entitled Mindfulness in Medicine, published in the JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) in 2008, continues to be a guidepost as the number of people applying the practice has grown.

Becoming Mindful

So what is mindfulness and how can we incorporate it into our daily lives? A good place to start is by becoming more attentive to our breath, the simple rhythm that accompanies us everywhere. By pausing a moment, sensing the breath, we can slow our heart rate down. This helps rebalance the stress hormones that can be detrimental to our immune systems and overall well-being. Being stuck in traffic or waiting in line are great times to practice breath awareness, even if you really want to vent.

Another exercise to try is the body scan. When you’re lying down to rest or preparing for sleep, focus your mind on different parts of your body, starting with your feet and moving up through to the top of your head. Look for areas in which you might be holding tension and breathe into those spaces. If your mind wanders to your ‘to do’ list, simply return to the breath. Believe it or not, the ‘to do’ list can wait!

Living a Balanced Life

Of course practicing mindfulness isn’t the only antidote to stress. Seeking a balanced life that incorporates the other elements of wellness can be very helpful, too. Regular exercise, intellectually-stimulating activities, social interactions, as well as finding (and pursuing) hobbies that lend a sense of purpose, can help us stay grounded despite the whirl of life around us.

The next time you are taking a walk, eating a meal or doing a routine chore, take a moment to really focus on exactly what you are doing at that moment. Put aside the inner dialogue about what has just happened, or what is to come. Just feel the breeze, listen to the birds and sense the ground beneath your feet. It’s amazing what a difference it can make.

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