Slow Down: How to Give Yourself a Yellow Light in a Green Light Society

 By Jamie Joseph

We live in a society that values being busy, especially in the United States. We’re obsessed with catching all the green lights, and when a light turns yellow, we become flustered and try to speed up to surpass the red. Road rage sets in when we miss that light. We hate stopping. We’re impatient. We arrive at home, yet we’re still chasing that green light, even as we lay still in bed. Does this sound familiar? Are you unable to just hit the pause button even when the day is over and it’s time to unwind, but your thoughts are racing 100 miles per hour? From the wise words of Corinne from season 21 of The Bachelor: “Even Abraham Lincoln took naps.” Maybe you could learn a thing or two about down time from Corinne–or you can keep reading to receive some scientifically-proven advice!

When we think “busy,” we think “valuable” and “successful.” But at what cost will our go-getter mentality affect our overall health? And when did we become human doings  instead of human beings? When was the last time you were still? If you get laid off or fired tomorrow, will your self-value decrease? The practical answer is “no, my work doesn’t define my worth.” But as much as we say that, some of us truly have lost sight of what self-worth is and what it is rooted in. Despite what billboards and advertisements tell us-we’re more than a salary or the next best job. Our self-worth is internal, but we’ve placed it externally.

If you’re anything like me, you’re a hustler and you don’t like being told to take a break when you’re on a roll. But inside every hustler, there’s a fear that if you pause, you’re going to be setback-until that moment when you’re on the floor, overwhelmed at everything you’ve done and still have to do, probably confused about how you’ve gotten to this point. This is the third stage of a go-getter lifestyle: the breaking point. The two prior stages are much easier to pinpoint because we live through them every day: 1.Working nonstop (both in the workplace and at home) and 2.Thinking about work nonstop. Once steps one and two are repeated over and over, we arrive at step three. Quite frankly, step three is the most important. It’s the wakeup call from our mind and body to let us know, “Hey, I know you think we run on batteries but we need a break!” Seems easy, right? Wrong. We’ve conditioned ourselves to work, work, work and go, go, go that we’ve forgotten how to give ourselves a break. Some of us feel we don’t have the means financially to take a break. I understand. I’m not saying you should quit your job or request off for a month to vacation in the Bahamas at the expense of not paying your rent; that would be unreasonable. There are ways to take a break throughout your busy days-even when you’re at work. It starts with being mindful. I love to work and throw myself into my education, but I also need a break or my brain will decide to give me that long overdue red light (a.k.a, step three).

The practice of mindfulness is a popular method in Eastern society, and it has slowly crept into acceptance in the West. We probably are most familiar with the term “meditation.” Mindfulness can be meditation, but meditation isn’t always mindfulness. Don’t worry, you aren’t committing to an unknown religious ritual when you are practicing mindfulness. In fact, we simply choose when we want to be mindful every day. Maybe some moments are worth embracing more than others-mindfulness is simply focusing on everyday activities and being present with them, not just going through the motions. It is focusing on the movements in your body (like breathing) even when you are pausing. It’s noticing the sunlight on your skin as you stroll through town. It’s eating a croissant and truly tasting the texture and flavor. It’s noticing someone’s features when you look at them. You don’t have to go buy a yoga mat, light a candle and sit criss-cross (although you can do this if you want!) to practice mindfulness. You can be mindful doing everyday necessities, like washing your hands, washing the dishes, taking a shower, brushing your hair, applying makeup, drinking coffee-you get the idea. These actions that may seem mindless are revealed in a whole new light when you are actually aware of what you’re doing. The importance of these actions  (big or small) and how the routine of them over time can become blurry causes us to feel rushed subconsciously because we aren’t pausing to reflect, even when it comes to small actions.

There are countless books on the practice, but a practical 153-page guide written by mindfulness teacher and consultant Tessa Watt is the perfect introduction. The book is filled with countless benefits to the practice and each chapter contains new exercises to help us slow down and be present with our mind and bodies. The author also leaves room for us to create our own practices for when and how we can be mindful. It’s not about committing to meditation every day.  For me, that translates to a massage parlor or the nail salon. These things make me happy and allow me to unwind. While I can’t just have my masseuse or nail lady visit me when I’m at work or doing homework, I can set aside a time each month to have these moments. Knowing that there is a pause button ahead can be motivation, but another step to ensure sanity is creating space even during the busy days to take deep breaths and be present with my daily duties.

Three scientific benefits of training ourselves to be mindful are outlined within the guide:

  • Physical Health

Mindfulness can help us to cope better with a range of conditions, including chronic pain, heart disease and cancer. It’s been shown to strengthen the immune system, improving our response to illnesses ranging from flu to psoriasis to HIV. (Mindfulness: A Practical Guide, Tessa Watt p.5)

  • Mental Health

Mindfulness is increasingly being used to help people with recurrent depression, addiction, anxiety-related ailments and general stress. (Mindfulness: A Practical Guide, Tessa Watt p.5)

  • Well-Being

Many participants in mindfulness training have reported greater enjoyment and appreciation of their lives, as well as other benefits like greater self-awareness, greater acceptance of their emotions and increased empathy for other people. Neuroscientists are now backing this up with studies showing that meditation can strengthen areas of the brain associated with happiness, well-being and compassion. (Mindfulness: A Practical Guide, Tessa Watt p.5)

We need to take care of ourselves, and we need to encourage our peers to slow down as well. When we run ourselves dry, we don’t have the energy to give our work the attention it needs. We’ve become so fast-paced that we have forgotten our self-worth comes from the most important place: our body-and stress can and will affect our hustle. If we can make time to take care of our work as if it were a child, we can make time to take care of the very thing which houses our ability to work. Thus, our minds need to be nourished and refreshed.

Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Embrace the yellow light. Without it, our streets would be chaos. Listen to the traffic lights within!

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