Health Beat: Becoming Present

Published 7:12 pm Friday, August 3, 2018

It’s no secret that we are all very busy. In fact, being busy, or “busyness,” has become somewhat of a status symbol in our culture. The busier we are or seem, the more desirable and successful we must be. Busyness is also more celebrated in the media, featuring ads of people working long hours and having very little leisure time, encouraging us to live that type of lifestyle. We often answer that we are busy in social situations when we are asked how we are doing and we seem to have less leisure time than ever.

The truth of the matter is most of our busyness is self-imposed: work and obligations we have agreed to voluntarily. It seems as if we’ve almost become addicted to being busy, and may even feel anxious or guilty when we aren’t working or being productive in some form or fashion. We are not just busy, we are tired, exhausted and burned out. We are suffering from a host of health issues, such as insomnia, anxiety, indigestion and heart disease, which is only made worse by our busyness and stress. We rarely give our best to ourselves or the ones we love. We take less time to care for ourselves, like eating a healthy diet or exercising, and our loved ones are given the leftover energy and emotions that remain after our “busyness.”

I have found that the opposite of busyness is being present. I recently spent 12 weeks being more present than I have ever been in my life, watching and reacting to my newborn’s needs nearly every moment of every day. While this can certainly be an overwhelming and challenging time, caring for a newborn forced me to slow down and prioritize my life. What used to be so important became so very unimportant, and I learned I don’t have to be busy to be happy. In fact, I learned that being too busy made me unhappy in the past, and there’s a better way to live this one life I’ve been given.

During those 12 weeks, I also read a book called “Present over Perfect” by Shauna Niequist that could not have been more appropriate. It validated what I was experiencing and challenged me to continue to be more present and less busy after maternity leave ended, and I returned to a new normal of balancing life as a working mom. I’d like to share with you what being present means to me and how you can interrupt the busyness in your own life.

Caring for a newborn is very time consuming. I spent many hours rocking him to sleep and feeding him. Although my hands were tied, my mind was often not, and it allowed me to reflect on what’s really important to me. I found myself realizing I had filled my life with so much, with good things, but rarely took the time to slow down and really enjoy them. Instead, I was always anticipating and planning for what was coming next and missing what was right in front of me. With that said, my rocking and feeding sessions became just that. I had to train my brain to stay on the task at hand instead of letting my mind wander to what I felt I should be doing or what I needed to do next. Multitasking was stealing my time, and I was determined to enjoy my time at home with my newborn.

I have also found that busyness left me feeling unfulfilled, even though I was working full time and was involved in several activities after work and on weekends. I never “arrived” and was always looking for something else to do or achieve and often was too tired to achieve it in the first place. I found that focusing on the present and cultivating gratitude conditions our brain to find solutions and focus on the positive instead of the negative. It forces us to enjoy the present and leaves us feeling satisfied instead of thirsting for more.

In this day and age, the digital world consumes us and provides “noise” that is often meaningless and steals our time. Setting aside time every day to limit your distractions by turning off the television, computer and phone can redirect your focus, and also buy back time to spend in a more meaningful way. Spend the time you would watching television or checking your social media by being active, reading something inspiring or spending time with your loved ones.

Becoming less busy and more present sounds easy in theory, but it does take conditioning in order for it to be life changing. It’s something we have to be intentional about doing, or we will find ourselves mimicking the busy world around us. Practice being present by focusing on one task at a time, cultivating gratitude and limiting your distractions.

Meagan Overman, MS, is a clinical exercise physiologist at Vidant Wellness Center and can be reached at 252-975-4236.