Work commitments, family schedules, convenient junk food and nutrient-poor diets, information overload and a culture of ‘material success’ can cause high stress, burnout and anxiety. It’s no wonder that around the globe people are popping meds, are being diagnosed with degenerative diseases and their families are breaking down. Many are beginning to realise the detrimental effects of our modern lives are seeking answers to these problems. Many like me have found it - it lies in mindful living.
What is mindful living?
Mindful living—sometimes referred to as slow living and minimalism—is an intentional approach to structuring your life that focusses on meaning, fulfilment and quality of life. Mindful living embraces simplicity and purposeful purchases and rejects stuff accumulated through mindless habit. This is a lifestyle that encourages people to make conscious decisions rather than living on automatic unconscious, otherwise known as “autopilot.”
So how did I incorporate mindfulness in my life? Here’s what I did:
I moved to the country.
I am what people call a “millennial” and my decision to leave the city seemed at odds with what all my friends and peers were doing. People in their ‘prime’ aren’t meant to ‘drop out’ and live in the country. But this is exactly what I did 5 years ago. On the back of a career change, a new flourishing relationship and a death in the family, my partner and I decided to leave Melbourne and move to regional Queensland. We moved to a community with just 300 people in the town and initially lived in a tent on his family’s two acre property. This was the beginning of my ‘awakening.’ I learned to grow organic food, lived simply (by then we moved into the solar-powered shed), spent lots of time observing wildlife, had our own chickens and found the time to explore activities such as reading and writing that I had no time for when I lived in the rat race. This was a cathartic experience that forever changed the trajectory of my life.
I chose more fulfilling work.
I was your typical corporate career girl: I worked in consumer finance, I put in long hours, I climbed the corporate ladder. I worked hard and I partied even harder. However in my mid-20s suffering what I call a nervous breakdown, I was forced to reevaluate my priorities. What was the point of earning good money if I didn’t enjoy my work? What was the point of accumulating assets when I was forced to do work I didn’t enjoy so I could purchase them? I was unhappy, my work was unfulfilling and I was mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Building a successful career is what we’re groomed for and when I hit my crisis, I realised the career in finance was not what I wanted. I needed to find my purpose. So I called it quits. When I moved to the country I began working with a not-for-profit working with some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This then led me to becoming a project coordinator and content writer for a digital agency of which the experience gave me the confidence to launch my own digital agency. Now I help other socially responsible businesses with their content marketing, online PR and social media management. The job I created for myself requires lots of work (you won't understand unless you're a writer, social media guru and run your own business), but is the most fulfilling work I have ever done.
I began eating real food.
It can be difficult to eat mindfully when you live a life that is overly scheduled and leaves you time poor. Despite being vegetarian, I continued to eat out most meals and still ate lots of processed foods such as crackers, white bread, pasta. It wasn’t until I suffered low blood pressure and near anaemia that I realised I needed to change my eating habits. Now I plan my weekly shops, eat lots of whole foods and shop at my local grocer who grow much of their produce.
We also grow plenty of our own food including fruit, vegetables, herbs and nuts. Food has a significant impact on how we function—which I learned the hard way—so if you want to function at your optimal levels, make sure to eat real food: lots of raw foods and whole foods, no artificial substances and aim for organic ingredients when possible. I also recommend being mindful about how you eat and how much you eat. Avoid multi-tasking such as stuffing your face whilst working on the computer. Mindful eating is not just about what you buy, but how you prepare and eat the meal. You should aim to be present when you’re eating so you can enjoy your food. Avoid large portion sizes that leave you feeling full and bloated.
I started practising meditation.
The act of consciously breathing reduces stress hormones, helping us to slow down and think more clearly. A study completed by the University of New Mexico found that participation in mindfulness courses reduced anxiety and binge-eating. I practice 10-minute mindful meditation daily, usually before I begin work as it gives me clarity and mentally prepares me for the day. I also practice meditation before going to bed as it helps me sleep. You can read more about my meditation practice in this blog post.
Activities that incorporate breathing practices such as meditation, yoga, tai-chi and Pilates are ideal. But if you don’t have the time you can do 10 minutes of breathing exercises no matter where you are, ensuring that you are taking deep breaths, filling your diaphragm and then slowly releasing your breath. So if you are feeling anxious, feeling frustrated or are having problems sleeping, try some deep breathing exercises.
Mindful living looks different for everyone but the underlying concepts are the same: living with purposeful intent and making conscious choices that enables you to get more enjoyment and fulfilment out of your life.