By Andrea Lieberstein, MPH, RDN, RYT
When things in our lives are stressful or uncomfortable, the frequent response is to do something to avoid feeling discomfort. Tuning out in the form of distraction and procrastination generally do the trick. And let’s face it, there are endless things to distract ourselves with including food, TV, the internet, and “over-ing” just about anything—over-working, overeating, over-sleeping, over-spending…. Too much of anything has downsides. And tuning out to avoid discomfort doesn’t actually make it go away. The underlying feelings are still there, fueling unnecessary activity on relatively unimportant things. We wonder where all our time goes and why we feel shut down, dissatisfied, or unfulfilled.
One of the greatest gifts of mindfulness practice is the ability to more fully inhabit our lives by staying present and tuned in even when life is uncomfortable. Mindfulness includes meeting each moment of our lives with curiosity, openness, and clarity. We practice being with our thoughts, feelings, and experiences without judgement and with kindness. The best thing of all is we don’t have to be unfocused and frenzied in soulless activity—we are no longer afraid to feel the good and the bad without running. We regain our productivity as needed and the ability to be present.
Lora was a client who had learned to eat to tune out when things were uncomfortable. At the first sign of boredom or stress, she would get up and go to the refrigerator or reach into her desk drawer for a little comfort and distraction. Food worked like a charm when it came to checking out at first, but it also came at a cost, and was short lived. With mindfulness practice, she learned to “tolerate” uncomfortable feelings and see how they changed or passed by when met with curiosity. She gained a greater understanding of what was driving her desire to “not be here” in a given moment and she nurtured an attitude of kindness, amusement and humor: “Here it is again” towards the feelings as they arose. One of her many big “ah ha” moments was realizing that feeling bored in her work was often a trigger for her to tune out with food. She asked for opportunities to up the level of challenge and variety in her work so that she felt more interested and engaged. She also experimented with taking breaks during her shifts that weren’t about eating. She spent some breaks chatting with colleagues, walking outside for a few minutes, or enjoying a good book. By not running away from discomfort, she was able to understand and respond to what she was really needing.
Meeting the moment with courage and curiosity doesn’t always have to lead to significant life changes, but it can supply greater ease, willingness and focus whether you are experiencing good feelings or bad. You can make choices that are nourishing and aligned with your values and how you really want to spend your time.
Tuning in – Try this mindful check-in:
- When you notice feelings of stress, boredom, or fatigue, try staying engaged in the moment.
- Foster an attitude of curiosity and openness. Notice your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. Do you want to check out and distract yourself?
- Notice what happens when you practice awareness. What do you really want or need in that moment?
- Consider how can you inhabit your life more fully and make self-nourishing choices.
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Discover eM Life where this week’s live practices will explore how to fully inhabit life when it’s good and even when it’s not so good. We’ll examine ways to work mindfully, and spend more time tuning into our lives for greater joy, satisfaction and effectiveness.
About the author
Andrea is a bestselling author of ‘Well Nourished: Mindful Practices to Heal Your Relationship to Food, Feed Your Whole Self, and End Overeating,’ Instructor at eMindful, Speaker, Trainer, Mindfulness and Mindful-Eating Coach
Also published on Medium.