This is part 3 of my 5-part series on how to slow down time to benefit your body, your mind, and the earth. Part 3 draws the connection between slowing down time, living a simpler life, and being more environmentally-conscious: they culminate in healthy mental well-being.
Making the decision to slow down, prioritize mindful living, and be conscious of my environmental footprint has had a transformational effect on my mental well-being. It’s forced me to be more present, and because of that, I feel less anxious and more content. I’m not going to tell you how to take care of your mental health or give you a guided meditation. My goal is to show you that taking care of your mental well-being is an altruistic mission, and one that goes hand in hand with living with intention and taking care of the earth.
But before we go on, disclaimer:
It’s a trade off. If you’re looking for ways to save time and make things easier so you can rush off to the next thing, this is not the lifestyle change for you. If you’re sick of the perpetual rushing, feel like you’re constantly busy and stressed, and want to live in the moment, slowing down is exactly what you need.
Since convenience means saving time, removing convenience means taking more time. And by taking more time, you’re actually slowing down time.
Because convenience = saving time and being more present = slowing down time that means... convenience ≠ being more present.
Like anything else, there are extremes, and I’m not advocating for them. I’m not saying you should only eat food you’ve prepared yourself and that you should never buy an item of clothing again. What I am saying is that, when faced with a choice and when you can, try trading convenience for presence and intention.
Everyday Mental Health & Wellness
We’ve gotten so accustomed to being busy that we’ve stopped asking ourselves what we’re busy for: what are we gaining in exchange for the stress of running around all the time?
By packing as much as possible into each day, by keeping ourselves occupied during every single moment, we’re actually perpetuating the idea that we don’t have enough time. By constantly filling our time, we’re increasing the amount of time wasted.
Here’s an example. Say you’re at the neighborhood coffee shop in the morning. As you walk in the door, you see there’s a bit of a line. You sigh, frustrated. You’re already cutting it close to get to work on time. While waiting in line, you pull out your phone and scroll through social media. You shoot off a few texts at lightning speed. Your phone buzzes: it’s an email about a project coming up that you totally forgot about. You spend four minutes in line, and by the time you get to the counter, you’re more anxious than you were before.
Let’s reimagine the scenario with a different approach. You’re at the neighborhood coffee shop in the morning. As you walk in the door, you see there’s a bit of a line. You sigh, frustrated. You’re already cutting it close to get to work on time. Rather than pulling out your phone, you decide to take a few deep breaths and feel present in your body. You focus on your breathing, deepening and evening it out. You do a mental scan from head to toe, noting how you’re feeling physically. You feel your phone buzz in your pocket, but you don’t reach for it. The email or text will still be there when you’re done with your mini meditation. You spend four minutes in line, and by the time you get to the counter, you feel calm, centered, and open.
In the same four minute period of idly waiting, you have the choice to either turn your brain off and check out, or to tune in and slow down.
It’s kind of like looking at the nutritious value of food rather than the calories. Two sugary granola bars have roughly the same number of calories as two eggs, but which will serve your body better if you eat them for breakfast?
Mindful Living Means Rejecting the Status Quo
Slowing down is a gradual change, but it’s also a conscious one; it’s definitely not what our culture wants us to do. Most media, advertisements, and products insist we do the exact opposite. It feeds into a cycle that benefits the supplier.
When we’re busy all the time, we get addicted to the feeling of novelty. Taking care of ourselves suddenly means consuming, be it endlessly scrolling through social media or watching flawless-faced actors on-screen. We have a feeling of inadequacy as a result, so we buy products we’re told will make our lives better, will make us happier, will make us more attractive. This costs money. Suddenly the amount of money we’re currently earning is not enough; we want to earn enough money to support the lifestyle we think we need. We work harder, putting in more hours to work towards an arbitrary goal. We neglect self-care more, which causes us to sink more time into distraction and buying our happiness. The cycle continues.
Same goes with how we treat our bodies. Media and advertisements assert that we should go out to bars and restaurants all the time, spending money and consuming alcohol and food that generally has more fat, more salt, and less nutritious value than what we’d make at home. When we feel bloated, self-conscious, and chubby as a result, media and ads then convince us we need to go to boot camp classes to get an intense workout that will burn off the calories. We find some semblance of balance between the two, but it depends on us reaching to both extremes and feeling two very different versions of shitty.
I advocate for spending more time in the middle.
When we slow down, it’s easier to tune into our bodies and hear what they’re telling us. We might hear that we’re craving something healthy rather than something greasy, so we’ll make a different decision when ordering dinner at a restaurant. The next day, we’ll feel great as a result, and maybe decide to just take a walk rather than pound on our joints for an hour at an intense circuit class. Next time a friend wants to grab dinner, we might suggest cooking together rather than going out because we’re feeling inspired to create something healthy and delicious.
This is an incredibly optimistic, pie-in-the-sky scenario, and the positive effect would almost certainly unfold much more slowly, but there’s truth to it.
Choosing this cycle means saying no to the cycle that keeps us feeling inadequate, unhappy, and unattractive. We opt for slowing down to take care of ourselves rather than speeding up to consume and grind.
I totally acknowledge that it’s not easy to make the switch. For many of us, it may require a larger motivation; for me it was being more environmentally conscious. When you’re ready to make the change, though, you’ll see the benefits everywhere.
Benefits for your mind:
The best part of taking care of yourself mentally is that it opens you up to take care of others and be present for the world. Your creativity has the freedom to run wild. Your mind is quiet enough to give shape to an amazing idea or creative solution.
Benefits for your body:
Being chronically stressed is truly awful for your body. There’s ample research showing that prolonged periods of high cortisol production can contribute to a weakened immune system (1), an increase in mental illness (2), behavioral problems (3), and poorer physical health (4). When you chose to take care of your mental health, you’re choosing to take care of your physical health as well.
Benefits for the earth:
Simply put, the healthier you are—mentally and physically—the less strain you put on the earth. When we’re sick, we consume more resources and aren’t able to contribute to our fullest degree. We can’t share our gifts with the world and instead require others to spend their energy taking care of us. In this way, keeping yourself mentally healthy is actually an altruistic act. It prevents others from having to take care of us, opens ourselves up to take care of those who need it, and lessens the burden we place on our planet.
Benefits for your wallet:
When you’re more content, you’re less likely to seek happiness with the swipe of a credit card. You may invest more in enriching experiences than material goods. This may make you happier (5). As you break free from the cycle of insecurity and consumerism, your mental well-being—and wallet—will thank you.
If you want to kick start your journey towards mental well-being, I suggest starting by eliminating the crutches you rely on for fear of a moment of mental quiet.
How to Slow Down Time: The Distraction Cleanse
A few months back, I noticed how heavily I was relying on distractions. For me, I distracted myself by shopping, watching TV, and wasting time on Instagram. I noticed that my knee jerk reaction whenever I had a second of unplanned time was to fall back on one of those things. I didn’t like it. So I developed a challenge that I’ve dubbed the Distraction Cleanse.
Over 3 sets of 10 days, my goal was to abstain from (at least) one distraction. During the first 10 days, the goal was to abstain from buying anything nonessential. During the second 10, my goal was to abstain from watching TV. And during the third 10, I wanted to abstain from social media. If I found it particularly difficult to cut any one distraction from my life, I rolled it over into the next 10 day period.
The first 10 days when I abstained from shopping were no biggie. It almost felt like a relief: I didn’t have to worry about buying anything unnecessary. During the second 10 days, when I was trying not to watch TV, I failed miserably, so I rolled this over into the third set of 10. During that time, I abstained from watching TV and social media, and I accidentally abstained from shopping as well. I didn’t make a conscious decision to not shop, but the three were so interconnected that cutting ties with two immediately made me lose interest in the third.
This experience was hugely eye-opening for me. In addition to wasting less time on distractions, I was more productive, less anxious, and more confident. I genuinely felt happier. At first, it was difficult, but I expected that: I was facing myself in a mirror with zero distortion or obfuscation. It was uncomfortable. I also didn’t really know what to do with my time. Over the course of the 30 days, though, I felt more compelled to do things that fuel me, like practicing yoga, meditating, and writing.
That wasn’t an intentional piece of my challenge; I didn’t have secondary goals of working more and getting in shape. But by reducing distractions, I allowed myself to spend time doing things I wanted to do because the easier option—watching Netflix while scrolling through gorgeous homes and looking at home furnishings online—was no longer an option.
I’d highly recommend trying this challenge for yourself. Customize it by choosing three forms of distraction that are most prevalent for you. Maybe it’s eating out of boredom, smoking weed, playing video games, or procrastinating on work.
Even after all this, you still might be thinking, “I don’t have time to do yoga or meditate or journal.” I hear you and I understand why you’re having that thought, but you do have time. More importantly, you need to make time.
Shift your perspective. Rather than seeing the ways you take care of yourself as being obligations, see them as rituals, as investments in your health, as time well-spent.
See them as maintenance that allows you to ________ [fill in the blank].
be a better partner
be a better parent
create more art
give more to your friends
live more fully
Start with something small, like 5 minutes of meditation twice a week, and see where it leads.
“Fall in love with taking care of yourself. Fall in love with the path of deep healing. Fall in love with becoming the best version of yourself but with patience, with compassion and respect to your own journey.” - Sylvester McNutt III, Care Package
For more on how to slow down and tune in, check out the rest of the series!
Check out my sources:
(1) Stress leads to a weakened immune system: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4465119/
(2) How stress affects mental health: https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2012/10/15/how-stress-affects-your-mental-health/#76c138271420
(3) Stress and behavioral problems: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/02/110209124143.htm
(4) Stress and poor physical health: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8721.01246
(5) Investing in experience may make you happier: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2014.898316?journalCode=rpos20&