For years I’ve been feeling a tug to slow down, to remove distractions, to be more present.
It’s not as though I’ve been completely “unpresent” or haven’t been enjoying my life but, deep down, something always felt out of balance, off kilter.
I was moving at a pace that just didn’t feel sustainable for me anymore, or maybe it was just a pace I no longer wanted to keep up with. I was yearning for more while simultaneously longing for less. Does that even make sense?
I read books on how to reduce distractions (Indistractable by Nir Eyal is one I highly recommend), deleted social media apps only to download them again, made time for work breaks, set timers, etc. but still I felt as though something was missing. Regardless of any new practices and tips, I kept missing the mark for myself.
I wanted more stillness and less noise. More serenity and fewer distractions. More rest and less busyness.
To my surprise it wasn’t until I became a mom that I finally started understanding that slowing down, finding stillness isn’t something that just happens to you. Slow living is a practice, a mindset, you have to be intentional about – it takes time to figure out what works best for you.
I realized that if I truly wanted to slow down, I had to choose to slow down. I had to create a time for rest, serenity, and stillness if I wanted to rest, serenity, and stillness in my life. And, that’s exactly what I did.
Where to start
I’ve put this post together so I can share some of the slow living practices and lessons I’ve learned along my personal slow-living journey. Obviously, I am, and always will be, a work in progress. I actually don’t think there’s a final destination to slow living. Our lives are constantly shifting, changing, and growing. Slow living practices that work today may not work next year or even next month. Life is always evolving. You are always evolving. So have fun with the process.
Slow living practices that have made a difference in my life
I want to kick things off by sharing a few slow-living practices I’ve implemented in my life over the past few months that have made a huge difference in my overall emotional and mental well being. Now, these practices and tips may or may not work for you, and that’s ok. My hope is simply to inspire you to slow down and give yourself space to reflect on the habits and behaviors that are no longer serving you. And explore ways you might be able to replace them.
First, let’s define slow living.
There are so many different ways one can define the practice of slow living. But, one simple way to put it is that slow living is a mindset shift that embraces living with more intention and presence, and, of course, slowing down.
As Carl Honoré, author of In Praise of Slowness shares, “It’s quality over quantity. It’s doing things with presence, being in the moment. Ultimately, it’s about doing everything as well as possible instead of as fast as possible.”
For me slow living means surrounding myself with people who bring me joy and uplift me as well as creating time and space for stillness without external distractions. It’s about spending time with loved ones and appreciating the small moments and things in life.
4 Simple Ways To Create More Stillness
1. Turn off your cell phone
The average millennial will spend approximately 9 years of their life staring at their phone, according to a study conducted by Whistle Out. Yikes! Not only is that a lot of time spent staring at a screen but studies are also finding that our addiction to technology can potentially result in harmful health effects. More and more studies are finding that the use of social media, especially among the younger generations, is often linked to mental health issues such as increased rates of depression and anxiety. According to a study published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience extensive screen time and technology use include heightened attention-deficit symptoms, impaired emotional and social intelligence, technology addiction, social isolation, impaired brain development, and disrupted sleep.
And yet, even while most of us are, to a certain extent, cognizant of these facts, we keep reaching for our phones…like, a lot. The average American will check their phone once every 10 to 12 minutes. Meaning most of us are checking our phones at least 96 times per day. Sigh.
I’ve struggled unplugging from my cell phone. I’ve tried screen time apps, removed notifications, etc. but the only thing, for me, that has actually worked is physically turning off my phone and leaving it in a separate room.
In fact, I’ve gone as far as creating a complete tech-free day for myself. I call it my Slow Living Sunday. While my Sunday Sabbath entails more than just being tech-free (I light candles, cook special food, walk in nature, etc. read more about it below), completely unplugging from my cell phone has been one of my favorite slow living practices. Not being continually distracted by social media, text notifications, ads, or telemarketer calls, has helped to create more serenity and stillness in my life.
2. Focus on the present moment
I struggle with being present. In fact, I often roll my eyes when folks tell me to “be present.” It’s like someone telling you to “calm down” when you’re agitated. Thanks for nothing!
But, as I stepped into the role of maman I felt a deep yearning to be more present.
I started asking myself, how can I be present when I have a million things on my to-do list? How can I be present with my son when I just received a call that a family member’s health is in decline?
What I’ve come to realize is that being present doesn’t mean each and every moment is idyllic and perfect. Rather, being present means, slowing down and taking note of what is taking place in the ‘now.’ Note: It’s OK if the ‘now’ doesn’t feel good. Lean into whatever it is you feel. Emotions, whether good or bad, are part of being human.
Tips to help you stay present:
- Slow your breathing: Focusing on my breath, as I inhale and exhale, helps me to reconnect with my body. Sometimes throughout my day I will pause and take a few seconds to slow down my breathing, deeply inhaling from my diaphragm. Diaphramic breathing has been shown to help reduce stress by lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, and increasing how much oxygen is in your blood. One simple breathing technique I like to use is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. Inhale for four seconds, hold the breath for seven, and exhale for eight.
- Focus on gratitude – One of my favorite ways to start and end each day is by taking a moment to either journal or voice aloud to my family the things for which I am grateful for. Sometimes I like to focus on the simple things, like the warm cup of tea I enjoy while my son eats his breakfast or the fact that our dishwasher is working and I don’t have to wash all our dishes by hand. I also try to pick different things each day during this ‘gratitude ritual’ because, when you stop to think about it, there’s so much to be grateful for, things we often take for granted.
- Focus on your present surroundings: It’s so easy to get lost in thought, to focus on the past or the future. If I am outside I’ll take a deep breath and look up at the sky, watch the leaves rustle in the wind, notice the ant crawling along the sidewalk, feel the stem of grass in my hand. And, seeing that my son is often with me, I include him in this practice. Together we will look at the birds in the sky, feel the texture of the flower petals, etc.
3. Slow Living Sundays
For a long time, I measured my success by how productive my day had been. I was in a constant state of achievement – I was busy and proud of it. Maybe you can relate to this?
Once my son was born, for me, being busy, especially on the weekends, no longer felt good, it felt exhausting.
I tried for a few months to keep up with the pace of my “old” self, but no matter how hard I tried, my son’s natural pace of life just was not fitting into the “achievement standard lifestyle” I had held myself to for so long. I felt guilty for being ‘unproductive’ on the weekends, embarrassed that I hadn’t made plans 3 months ahead of time, and shying away from telling friends that my plan for the day was “to nap.”
Why? Why did I feel guilty for needing to rest? Enough was enough.
I decided it was time to consider all my habits and practices and weed out those that were no longer serving me. I did this by committing to one full day each week where I would allow myself to lean into the tug of slowness and create space for rest, family, and stillness.
This day of rest, which I now call my Slow Living Sunday, aka my Sunday Sabbath (but you can call it whatever feels best for you), has become my favorite day of the week. It’s a day that I get to be truly present with family and friends and free of external distractions.
What my Slow Living Sunday looks like
Making a special breakfast
I like starting my slow living Sunday…well, slowly. I make buckwheat crêpes, bring out the special tea cups, and light a candle. There’s something about lighting a candle at breakfast that makes it feel so much cozier and peaceful.
Keeping Phones on Airplane Mode
We keep our phones on airplane mode throughout the day. This was a hard one to get used to. Tip: Let friends and family know that you won’t have your phone on so they don’t worry if they can’t get a hold of you.
No Work Allowed!
I personally don’t permit myself to work on Sundays. I don’t check email, social media, or text messages. Incorporating this practice has made it easier for us to spend quality time together as a family. Which, as a military spouse is something I never take for granted.
Spending Time In Nature
Each Sunday my husband and I often plan at least one nature outing. These outings give us the opportunity to connect as a family and enjoy a bit of nature therapy. We either walk to our neighborhood park or, if we’re feeling adventurous, load up the car and find a nearby trail.
Create a Calming Bedtime Routine
Creating a calming bedtime routine has been a game changer in my slow living journey. Rather than watching TV before bed, I make myself a cup of tea and cozy up in bed with a warm blanket. I’ll then reflect upon the day and write down what I am most grateful for in my gratitude journal. I follow this little ritual by reading in bed until I can no longer keep my eyes open.
There are so many different traditions and rituals you can incorporate in your own life. Everyone’s slow living journey will look different. At the end of the day, it’s about finding what most resonates with you and your family.
Note: Obviously, not every Sunday is restful (hello #momlife) and some days I actually have to push through “boredom” (that’s been such an interesting process, btw). But, taking a sabbath on Sundays has been such a lesson in slowing down and focusing on being present. I feel calmer and less anxious as I start the week.
4. Spend more time in nature
Did you know spending as little as 20 minutes in nature has been found to significantly reduce cortisol levels? Spending anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes in nature (near a body of water, in the mountains, at your local park, etc.), whether sitting or walking, is associated with the biggest drop in cortisol levels. After that time, shares a study published in Frontiers Psychology, de-stressing benefits continue to add up but at a slower rate.
If you’re feeling stressed, give yourself the gift of 20 minutes in a quiet spot outdoors where you can slow down, breathe, and connect with nature.
In fact, I’ve noticed that my son is much happier and less whiny after having spent time outdoors. Sometimes just sitting on the front lawn and watching birds is all it takes. Tip: I make it I make it a priority to put my phone away when we are outside. This gives me the opportunity to focus on the present moment with my son and enjoy my surroundings.
To learn more about the benefits of spending time in nature tune-in to podcast episode #71 — “How Forest Bathing Can Improve Immunity and overall health!” with Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, an OB-Gyn, Integrative Medicine physician, certified forest therapy guide, and medical advisor for AllTrails.
Becoming a mother has been such a transformative experience. It’s forced me to slow down and helped me to become more flexible. I am and always will be a work in progress. But, I’ve found that implementing these slow living practices has helped me to embrace the chaos and overwhelm that often accompanies motherhood.
What slow living practices have worked for you as a new or seasoned parent? I’d love to hear from you.