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woman meditatingOur daily lives are stressful.  More often than not, we are dealing with the increasing pressure associated with taking on more and more responsibilities.  In our constant attempts to do it all, weather that includes our demanding work schedules and excessive tasks, including managing our frustrating customers, or splitting our time between multiple jobs or juggling family life or our relationships, we begin to suffer.  In our attempts to multi-task in the same way that our phone operates multiple apps at the same time and allows us to switch screens and tasks in the swipe of a finger or touch of a button, we become overwhelmed.  When this insurmountable stress and the demands of our lives become intolerable, we become in distress.  In this distress, our relationships suffer, our moods decline and we often turn the “off” button in our minds to escape this pain.

In the January 2014 edition of Psychology Today, Kat McGowan published an article on a rare group of people that she deemed Super Taskers, or individuals who flawlessly are able to effectively manage multiple tasks without making mistakes.  Unfortunately most of us are not part of this rare and extraordinary 2.5 percent of individuals that often thrive while completing two or three tasks at the same time.  The rest of the world, while extraordinary in our own ways, are not capable of doing multiple things at once without the occasional mistake, or worse without experiencing the distress associated with attempting to be and do it all.  McGowan compares the effects of our constant multi-tasking on our cognitive ability to the impairment of having had two or three drinks. Meaning that while we’re busy taking our work phone calls while driving in traffic, we’re rendered pretty ineffective.  Even worse off, most people end their stressful days completely checking out, often using food or alcohol or shutting down to their significant other all to cope with their suffering; ultimately creating more suffering and distance from the world around us and those we care most about.

To keep up with the extraordinary outliers mentioned above we begin to ignore distractors, including the wondering of our mind, or our “day dreams,” as well as the stimulation around us.  Rather than completely ignoring the presence of external events, Dan Hurley presents the effectiveness of meditation in his New York Times article titled “Breathing In vs Spacing Out.”  Hurley introduces the results of research using United States Marines in which it was found that 12 minutes of meditation a day resulted in an increase in the Marines ability to keep their attention and improve their working memory.  Furthermore, Hurley reported on a randomized trial in which 10 minutes a day of practicing mindfulness contributed to improvement of undergraduates testing on the Graduate Record Exam.  This article is intriguing as it creates the question of through meditating, can we become more successful and effective in our daily lives?

While meditation is the activity of paying attention with intention and evokes thoughts of half-clothed individuals in hot rooms sitting cross-legged for hours, it can also mean recognizing the engagement of our mind and focusing on our breathing.  Additionally, there is another piece of meditation that is gathering momentum in both Western medicine as well in our modern society: mindfulness.  Mindfulness in it’s basic definition simply means awareness of the present moment and translates to remaining free of judgment to whatever the current moment offers us.  So if 12 minutes of meditation seems impossible between shuffling kids to various appointments, working excessive hours, managing a social life and dealing with the demands of our fast paced life, there is an alternative.  Try and take a moment, just a moment, to breathe and notice.  In this deliberate breath, we begin to engage in our own personal mindfulness practice.  In your breath, notice your reactions to stress or pain or uncomfortable situations, but also notice your reactions in times of joy and happiness, and offer yourself compassion and kindness.  You may be like me and not one of the outliers considered Super Taskers, so breathe and notice.  Stay awake as you face the pressures of your daily life, even if this increased awareness feels challenging, as it is in this challenge that the process of mindfulness begins.  Who knows, you may just decrease your suffering and become more efficient.

Stress, Distress, Meditation and Mindfulness, is a blog article written by Mallory Serbin, a license eligible clinician at Matthew Bruhin & Associates. Call our office to schedule an appointment with her at 619-683-3774.

The articles mentioned in this blog can be read at http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201312/meet-the-super-taskers and http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/19/magazine/breathing-in-vs-spacing-out.html?_r=0.

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