Why shutting down is as important as powering on
Before today’s technologically-savvy generation, there was a time where rigid social boundaries existed between work and home, private and public. One’s social life remained unspoken in the realm of professionalism and work did not interfere with soccer games or walks in the park. Relationships were founded on the basis of trust through shared experiences and the work day ended at 5:00. And then things changed. Today, the idea of constant connectedness, both universally and among ourselves, is crucial to our daily routines. We are afforded the opportunity to travel and see the world, to stream news as it occurs, and to document every moderately exciting moment of our lives. Employers look at their candidates’ Facebook pictures and responsible employees respond to emails within five minutes or less. Relationships start via Twitter and are monitored via Snapchat. We are, quite literally, always connected. But this comes with great risks and consequences: losing sight of the “shut down” button. At the University of Virginia, this idea manifests itself as education, professional aspirations, and social lives constantly overlap. As students, we are offered 24-hour libraries, restaurants that stay open until sunrise, and unlimited Wi-Fi everywhere we go. And to top it all off, the places meant for relaxation, eating, and studying become multipurpose spaces that overlap in function. Think about it: CIO meetings take place in apartments, dinners are eaten at the libraries, and intoxicated streakers run to the rotunda, a historic representation of learning and innovation. So, what happens to this already fine line between personal life and work? Where do the boundaries go?
In a world where we are constantly pressured to keep going, finding the courage to press that shut down button is how we can stay sane. Even when we proactively schedule in time to sleep, exercise, and eat well, the restful purpose of these activities is lost in the chaos of checking emails, studying flashcards, and responding to text messages simultaneously. By constantly multitasking and using our physical bodies and minds as efficiently as possible, our activities often lack in quality and intentionality. We turn ourselves into machines that have been left running and forgotten about. Giving your mind the opportunity to dream, hope, and recover is as important as eating your vegetables and doing your homework on time. In fact, it is necessary. Imagine how much more prepared we would be if we spent 49 minutes of our 50-minute class focusing on the present moment, only. How genuine our relationships would be if we dedicated just 10 minutes of face-to-face attention to one another daily. How much more resourceful our environment would be if we listened and paid attention, rather than sprinted through life’s obstacles like a one-man track team. Allow yourself the luxury of admiring the sunset or taking a bath. Go on walks and allow yourself to be fully present, right now. Consciously incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life. And please, find the strength within you to shutdown your phone every once in a while.
Simple ways to practice mindfulness everyday:
- When you are performing any activity (even as you’re reading this article), tune in to what you are doing right now. What is your posture like? What emotions are you feeling? If your mind wanders off, remind it to come back to the present. One activity at a time.
- Before bed, take 5 minutes to lie down and pay attention to yourself. One body part at a time, raise and tighten your muscles as hard as you can. Hold this for 3 seconds, and release completely. Work through your body, one leg, arm, and muscle at a time. Then, relax.
- In moments of frustration, anger, or anxiety, close your eyes and take 3 deep breaths. Take this time to locate the source of your emotions and address the root, rather than reacting to the outcome. Again, listen to your body, physically and mentally. Are your muscles tight, your fists clenched, and shoulders raised? Don’t judge yourself for being “wrong”, just acknowledge why.
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, meditation, and yoga, reach out to the Contemplative Sciences Center at U.Va. Or visit the Women's Center blog for mental wellness tips offered regularly. We even include them in our orientation materials for new students.