Get the most out of summer’s big and small moments
by Farrah Hughes, PhD, Director of Behavioral Health Services
Has someone ever told you something, only for you to forget it five minutes later? Or have you walked out of a store only to realize that you completely forgot where you parked?
I will bet these things have happened to most of us, and they happened because we weren’t paying attention. Our bodies were there, but our minds were somewhere else!
On a larger scale, think of the times that you have taken a vacation, a day off from work or even a short walk in the park, only to realize you have no idea where the time went. You can’t imagine how it flew by so quickly; it’s like you weren’t even there.
To illustrate, meet my friend Anna. Anna’s cousin came to visit a few weeks ago. She had looked forward to this visit for months. Anna spent weeks planning meals, activities and family gatherings. When her cousin arrived, Anna was so caught up in the details that she failed to have any quality time with her cousin. When the visit was over, Anna was devastated. She was constantly on her phone texting plans, posting to Facebook and Twitter. Anna truly missed out.
If you are going on vacation this summer, or spending time at home or with family and friends, don’t miss out on these special times like Anna did.
To focus and get the most out of your experiences, both big and small, it helps to do a couple of things:
Go tech free. Yes, that means unplug or turn off your phone, tablet, computer and other devices. While technology allows us to do many wonderful things, don’t ignore the fact that devices also are huge distractions. Have you ever been talking to someone, only for them to be distracted by a notification or text? You were disregarded for someone who wasn’t even there! I will bet you have also done the same thing to others. I know that I have. Being plugged in causes us to miss out. Incidentally, this has been called “phubbing,” or phone snubbing in popular media.
Be mindful, present and in the moment. One way to accomplish this is to focus on sensory experiences. When you’re at the beach, focus on the feel of the sand, the color of the water and sky, the sounds of people, waves and seagulls, the taste of your fruity drink and the smell of salty air. When you are talking with someone, focus on their face, body language and the sound of their voice. Focusing on your senses allows you to disengage your “thinking brain” and simply be in the moment. You both will be physically and mentally present and will make these moments matter.
Being present and in-the-moment is a learned skill. In behavioral health, we refer to this as “mindfulness.” Being mindful means that we move through our experiences in a present, accepting, nonjudgmental way. We recognize what we are thinking and feeling, and accept them for what they are. They are neither right nor wrong, neither good nor bad, they just are.
Such nonjudgmental awareness enables us to attend to our current experience, whether that is sitting on the beach, spending time in prayer or talking with a good friend. It allows us to be proactive in dealing with situations rather than constantly reacting to circumstances. Additionally, studies have shown that mindfulness helps people cope more effectively with chronic pain, manage stress, lose weight and improve relationships. And, yes, mindfulness can help you get the most out of your summer vacation and time spent with family and friends.
For more information about mindfulness, visit mindful.org or stopbreathethink.com. You also can read books by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a world-renowned expert and faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. There also are many smartphone apps that can help you develop this skill, including “Headspace,” “Stop, Breathe, & Think” and “Smiling Mind.”