Practicing Mindfulness in Times of Transition
By MBA Prep Coach, Shannon Demko
Shannon Demko is an MBA Prep Coach at MLT, a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and the author of MindfulMBA. Her post is the first in our Health and Wellness Series.
There’s usually a lot of excitement in the air in January, when the new year kicks off and we feel like we have the opportunity to start fresh. When it comes to new beginnings, however, September gets less credit than it’s due. Many of you may be feeling this right now, in the midst of MBA applications, program orientations, back-to-campus transitions and post-graduation employment. Even if you don’t have a major change underway, the first hint of Fall may take you back to those days of new backpacks and freshly sharpened pencils. The start of any new chapter can hold as much promise and excitement as that crisp list of January resolutions. It can also, however, be super stressful.
Beginnings can also bring with them the unknown, questions about our identity and maybe some anxiety about the unfamiliar. Who will we be in this new chapter? What should we expect from it? Will we be able to get comfortable? Sure you will, if you want to. You’ll adjust and find your way right back to your comfort zone if you let inertia take over, but it’s the discomfort that’s the interesting part, right?
It’s pretty tough to grow and evolve without a little discomfort. When you’re starting a new chapter, growing “pains” are fairly inevitable. At the very least, there will be some awkward moments as you figure out what the landscape looks like in this new space in your life. It’s an opportunity, though, to push (or perhaps gently nudge) yourself out of your comfort zone to see what else is possible for you.
So how do you do this without ending up overloaded and burned out? I’m a proponent of mindfulness, so my first piece of advice is to take a deep breath. Inhale, exhale. Notice the simple sensations of your breath in your body. Intentional breathing relaxes the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, sometimes known as “rest or digest” mode. It’s the opposite of the “fight, flight or freeze” state, and it reduces physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, which in turn, help to calm your mind. Calm minds make better decisions, think more creatively and solve problems more quickly, mainly because they are focused on the present moment. They aren’t occupied with reflection or worry about hypothetical situations. Calm and centered minds live in the now, and respond to what is actually happening. They can be both logical and intuitive because they aren’t weighed down by extraneous, internal noise.
Centering yourself and staying calm isn’t just the right approach for tough transitions, though. Even when it comes to change we are 100% excited about, it can be challenging to stay present. Excitement can send the brain abuzz, and make it difficult to make intentional choices. Even more so, because we are less likely to flag excitement as “uncomfortable,” we may be less likely to take the time to re-center in the midst of it. (Signed up for every club, committee, and social event available, did you? Hmmm…) Make a habit of taking a few minutes each day to breathe, pay attention to where you are, and find your center. Your nervous system, and your calendar, may thank you.
Of course, you don’t need a new school year or a new gig to start fresh. New chapters can begin any day in big and small ways. Sometimes they are thrust upon us through unexpected change, and other times, we may have deliberately reset our page. Regardless, they give us the chance to reconnect with ourselves, to make deliberate choices, and to be present and connected to our own personal growth.
So go ahead and see what’s out there. Take one step at a time, but before you do anything, take a deep breath.
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