A Beginner’s Guide To Being Mindful AF
The Toronto-based authors of Let That Sh*T Go are making conversations around mental health NBD. Here, they offer tips for living in the moment and guilt-free relaxing.
When it comes to mastering the art of modern mindfulness, Kate Petriw and Nina Purewal have some very simple advice: Let That Sh*T Go. It’s the title of their new book and the attitude behind their easygoing approach to relieving anxiety, improving mental health, and getting of the thought hamster wheel. The Toronto-based co-authors both work in the mental health field (Purewal is a mindfulness instructor and Petriw is the creator of the Mindful AF workshop series that ran at Toronto's Drake Hotel). Their goal is to make conversations around mental health NBD, and the book includes over 100 tips on how to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life. Here, they share some of the basics, including how to live in the now and why there’s no reason to feel guilty about vegging out (turns out it’s good for you!).
Mindfulness 101: What is it?
Kate: The way I explain mindfulness is a lot of people are really interested in improving their body, so they go to the gym three times a week, try to eat healthy. Mindfulness is a way to improve your mind and improve your happiness by giving it that same attention. We called our book Let That Sh*t Go because it’s almost impossible to be mindful when your head is so cluttered with the past and the future.
Nina: At its most basic level, mindfulness is really just the art of being present and fully in the moment, which sounds simple, but think about how rare it is that your head and your body are in the same place. When we’re in the shower, we’re thinking about that stressful conversation we had; when we’re driving to work, we’re thinking about the vacation we want to go on or that crazy thing we read online. The good news is that it’s not a totally new skill. Most of us are mindful when we’re doing something we’re passionate about — cooking or painting or playing our guitar. It’s those moments where you’re not thinking about reaching for your phone.
Is there an easyish way to be more mindful?
Kate: There is this misconception that being mindful means a mind that is totally clear and that’s not the case. I don’t even know if that’s possible. We think between 32 and 45 thoughts a minute and we’re only conscious of about one percent of them. Mindfulness is about acknowledging the thoughts you’re having, and then letting them go.
Nina: We waste so much mental energy jumping around, but staying in the present is not easy, especially when you’re starting out. One of the tips we share is that if you’re by yourself and you’re trying to be mindful, try saying the things you are doing out loud. “I’m walking to the kitchen, I’m cleaning a plate, I’m moving a sponge in circular motions.”
Kate: It sounds totally weird, but for people who feel like they are constantly experiencing anxiety and mental burnout, it’s definitely worth trying. The thing about mindfulness is that when you’re doing it, you’re training your mind and you’re building good habits. It’s not like we’re saying you should be out with a friend and like, “I’m having a cup of coffee,” but if you try the exercise in private, eventually you will just be more in the moment naturally.
Relax! Relaxing is good for you (and so is some stress)
Kate: People get this idea that happy successful people are always busy, always doing something. Relaxing doesn’t get enough respect. So often the second we sit down we start thinking about what we need to be doing and feeling guilty and then we’re not relaxing. Even though it’s actually productive. When you relax you calm the nerves in your parasynthetic nervous system so later when you have a stressful scenario your brain is a lot calmer and you’re able to manage stress.
Nina: The goal of mindfulness is not to eliminate stress all together, just not to pack it on for no reason. People are stressed and then they’re stressed about being stressed and it just becomes a spiral. You want to acknowledge the things you are stressed about, decide what you are going to do about them and when you are going to do it, and then move on.
So many screens. Put that sh*t down
Kate: We’ve all been there when you pause and realize, wait, when did I pick up my phone and start scrolling through Instagram? It’s like this thing we’re not even aware of, and that’s one of the big problems. Mindfulness around social media is about paying attention to how it makes you feel. Like, wait, I feel crappy after being on Instagram for 10 minutes. And then making decisions that are informed by that.
Nina: These days you see a lot of digital detoxes, which is great, but not sustainable. We tell people to build breaks into their lifestyle. Maybe you don’t look at your phone for the first hour of the day. Or when you get home from work you put your phone in your room to charge. It’s a lot easier to avoid something when it’s not in your face.
Take back your weekend!
Kate: We call them the “Sunday scaries” — that particular kind of anxiety you get on a Sunday that gets worse as the day goes on. The reality is it’s totally normal, after two days away from work, to feel a bit of anxiety around going back, but this sort of stress or worrying is nothing but draining. Tell yourself, I have to go to work tomorrow — I don’t have a choice. Why am I going there already by failing to make the most of my Sunday?
Nina: The other thing that can be helpful is to reframe the things we “have” to do (go to work, do something for a friend, take kids to the park) as the things we “get” to do. Gratitude and perspective are very important tool in mindfulness and controlling anxiety. We have a chapter in the book called "Perspective: We Are All Stardust." It’s harder to stress about some insignificant conversation you had when you put your experience in context.
Being mindful in love
Kate: Our partners are the people we spend the most time with, and often we develop lazy habits around communication. To be more mindful in a relationship, when your partner is telling you something try to listen actively. Active listening is such a small act, but means so much — it means that when your partner is speaking, you’re thinking about what they are telling you and not about whether you agree or what you’re going to say next, which can be a knee-jerk for a lot of us.
Nina: It seems incredibly obvious, but it’s important to step back actually recognize that no matter how close you are, you and your partner are completely different people who are going to have different views. Sometimes we think it’s our job to convince our partners to agree with us, but it’s not. It’s about acceptance.
Kate: One of the tips in the books that can be useful in relationships is what we call “forgiveness to go.” So if you’re having a great day at the beach with your boyfriend and he does something that you might normally fight about, just let it go. For most couples the same fight happens over and over again in different ways, so remember than you don’t have to fight every time. Just acknowledge and release and go back to having a fun day.