Slow Down if You’re Moving Too Fast

Yesterday a good friend recounted how she had recently taken a tumble while heading into the Toronto subway. Thank goodness she was close to the bottom of the stairs as it could have been much worse. As it was, she still managed to sprain both her ankles as well as one of her wrists. As she recounted her mishap, I found myself cringing with more empathy than would be typical as it brought back memories of my own ankle injury that took place a number of years ago. Teaching at Niagara College at the time, I was heading home with a backpack full of papers and projects to mark when I skidded on a patch of black ice in the parking lot that had been hidden by new fallen snow. Unable to gain my balance as I was hampered by the weight of the backpack, I fell hard. My ankle was dislocated as well as broken in three places and ultimately required surgery and extensive physiotherapy. 

While everyone was kind and helpful, I remember being mildly annoyed with my mother who at the time suggested that perhaps the universe was trying to tell me something. I replied somewhat testily that it was simply an accident and had nothing to do with a message from the universe. In hindsight, both my recently injured friend and I might just agree that my mother was right in suggesting it was a message. 

The message was quite simple….Slow down!

There is no doubt that many of us are moving too fast. In fact, 23% of Canadians report having a high degree of life stress and report most days are “quite a bit” or “extremely stressful”. It not only makes life challenging, it is also leading to unprecedented health problems.

Why is this happening? What is wrong and what is it that we’re all searching for so madly? As we gear up for a jam-packed holiday season and the busy year beyond, what can we do to keep our stress under control and our lives more balanced?

Perhaps we need to begin by understanding that what we are likely seeking is connection. We are searching for connections to ourselves, our family, friends, meaningful work, love, joy, celebration and so on. In others words, we want connections to all that it means to live. We want a connected life. And, the odds are, we’re more likely to get it if we slow down.

So how do we slow down to enjoy life without having to resort to breaking our ankles? 

For what it’s worth, here are five strategies I’ve picked up over the years.

Start Slow. A slower-paced life means making time to enjoy your mornings even if it means getting up a half hour earlier to avoid rushing off to work in a frenzy. While it’s not possible to do every day, I often choose a slow start to the day and explain to my husband that today, “I’m easing into the day”. Going slowly into the day means more single-tasking – making coffee, drinking coffee, reading the paper, and eating slowly in order to be mindful of each bite and to savour the flavours and textures.

Do less. While many will find that to be ironic advice coming from me because I do work hard, the truth is that I don’t try to do it all each day. I’ve learned it’s impossible for me to slow down when I’m trying to do a thousand things. Instead, I’m getting much better at stopping to sort out the tasks that are most important for that particular day. While many of the priorities are work-related, it is just as likely to be about me getting myself to the gym or going out for dinner with my husband. Part of my related learning has also been the need to allow time and space for transition between appointments and tasks in order to avoid the stress of last minute rushing. It allows for time to breathe, gather thoughts, and even drive more slowly and safely.

Be present.While that’s good and often-repeated advice, it’s difficult to apply to one’s own life.  It’s been a tough one for me because it seems I’m always focused on what’s next on my to-do list. Too often I’m one of those who talks to colleagues, friends, and family but in truth is often distracted by devices, my own thoughts, or what I want to say next. I’m there but not really there. However, my friend Ian Hill recently shared this advice to help slow down as well as to be truly mindful and present. He suggested that when we’re talking to someone, we should talk to them as if they could be dead by midnight. While it sounds grim, it really is great advice that does work to keep you in the moment.

Find pleasure. While being present is essential, it is just as important to find and appreciate all aspects of your moments. Even shoveling snow can be more than a chore to check off the list if you stop and enjoy the crisp air, the beauty of the snow, and the sounds of kids at play. Almost anything can be an enjoyable task if we learn to slow down and teach ourselves to see it that way.

Breathe. When you find yourself speeding up and stressing out, pause, and take a deep breath. I have a friend who calls it belly-breathing because the idea is to breathe in deeply, feel the air coming into your body, and feel the stress going out as your belly rises and falls. Focusing on each breath really does slow you down. Try it now and see what I mean.

While it may not be easy, slowness for each of us is a conscious choice that ultimately can lead to the connections we seek, more happiness, and a greater appreciation for life.

As the holidays draw near, may you and your loved ones, slow down, connect, live, breathe, have fun, experience joy, and, perhaps most importantly, make the time to look around and appreciate everyone who has a place in your heart.

Posted on 12-19-10

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