As I prepare to fly to England to visit my parents and present a workshop, I sense myself getting sucked into pure “get-it-done” mode with my long list of to-do’s before I leave. It can be overwhelming and stressful. I feel like I don’t have time.
Time can be problematic for me in other ways, too. I often feel like I don’t have enough time. I have a fear of being late. I have a fear of being early. I often think tasks are going to take a lot longer than they do. I sometimes think things will go a lot quicker than they do. I could go on.
These feelings around time cause me problems, not so much in the way I plan my time – in fact my fears usually mean I’m good at making sure I’m punctual and allot plenty of time for appointments and tasks. The problems come from the tension in my body created by my anxiety about time. And that tension, if I don’t pay attention, will distort my body shape – my posture – and create pain.
It turns out I am not alone!
When I have a new client, I often have them try this little experiment:
Read the following sentence, then close your eyes and think these words to yourself a few times, exactly as they are written here:
“I have to do it right and I have to do it fast.”
What happens to your breathing? What happens physically in your body? How do you feel emotionally, and what are the physical cues that alert you to this feeling? If you didn’t notice anything the first time, go ahead and try it again.
Now read this sentence, then close your eyes and think it to yourself a few times:
“I am at ease in myself and have all the time I need.”
Again, notice what happens to your breathing and to your body in general.
Pretty much everyone I’ve tried this with reports experiencing increased tension at least somewhere in their body, along with holding the breath or shallow/restricted breathing when thinking the words in the first sentence, and a calming of the body and easier breathing for the second. This nicely illustrates the unity of mind and body (i.e. our thoughts are not separate from our physical body), but also shows that time is a common trigger for anxiety.
A few years ago my BodyIntelligence Book Club read Change Your Posture, Change Your Life by Richard Brennan. In the chapter entitled, “The Secret Key to Good Posture” Brennan writes that, “Posture and time are very much connected, as can be seen in common expressions such as being ‘pressed for time’, ‘pushed for time’, ‘under pressure of time’, or ‘moving at breakneck speed.’” As we discovered in the experiment above, just thinking that we don’t have time is enough to create harmful tension in the body. In fact, as Brennan says, “Lack of time is more of a feeling or a thought than a reality.”*
I’m lucky. Even though thoughts of not having enough time crop up often, I have the option to use my body intelligence skills and knowledge to help me become aware of and manage my relationship with time better – in a way that helps me breathe easier, improves my posture and decreases my tension and anxiety, while still allowing me to get things done! They help me to be present to what is actually going on now, rather than letting my fears about lack of time (the future) take over. It’s a practice that I am bringing to bear often today!
If you feel your own relationship with time “pulls you down” – literally – start off by just noticing when you have thoughts of not having enough time. Whether it is true or not, focusing on that will not help you.
Instead give yourself the gift of thinking “I have time.” This will only work if you truly believe it is a possibility and not just a platitude. Then pay attention to the steps you need to take – one by one – to get your task completed. To help you stay present and reduce tension as you do so, you can be aware of your breathing or bring your attention to places of relative ease in your body.
I also recommend finding specific times during the day to pay attention to the present. There are many practices which do this including meditation, and of course my personal favorite, Constructive Rest.
How is your relationship to time? Did you try the thinking experiment for yourself? If so, what changes in your body and breath did you notice? Do you have strategies or practices that help you?
As always, I’d love to hear from you. The comments function is still not working properly here on the blog (one day, when I have time, I’ll get it fixed!!). In the meantime, if you have an observation, question or comment for me, please hop over to my Facebook page and leave it there.
* Brennan, Richard, Change Your Posture, Change Your Life (London: Watkins, 2012), p. 76
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