Making time for moments of stillness can have powerful mental health benefits. Here are some tips to get you started.
Today, stillness can be hard to come by. There’s just so much going on. So much noise both inside and outside our brains, so many tasks on our to-do lists, and at least several screens within reach.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, stillness is “the quality of being quiet and not moving.”
Moments of stillness are possible even on the busiest of days. They are within our reach whenever we need them.
You can cultivate stillness while walking on a busy street, even while chaos swirls all around you.
“[S]ome of the coolest experiences are to be in the busiest of places and to foster an internal and external stillness for yourself,” said Karin Lawson, PsyD, a psychologist and clinical director with Oliver-Pyatt Centers.
Some of her favorite spots include the airport and mall.
The key is to create an intention of stillness — to have some intentionality about how we’re carrying ourselves in a given moment — and to focus on what is within our control, she said.
For instance, you might physically slow down by sitting, slowly walking, or even lying down, she said. You might reduce external stimuli in your environment by lowering the lights and turning down the music.
Stillness is powerful. “Being still is like replenishing the stores. It allows us time and space.” It gives us time and space to self-reflect and actually hear our thoughts, Lawson said.
It also soothes our nervous system. “[S]tillness produces the anti-stress fix by allowing us some chill time without totally checking out and being numb to our experience.”
Stillness looks different at different moments and in different situations, Lawson said. Her ultimate “best” still moments are when she turns off the stimuli around her, such as the television and radio. She might shut her eyes to calm her thoughts and focus her attention on one thing. She tries to make the moment “as basic and simple as possible.”
Here are several insights and suggestions from Lawson on practicing stillness:
Taking slow, deep breaths induces the parasympathetic system and slows your heart rate, Lawson said.
2. Practice when you need it
Lawson practices stillness anywhere, “when the moment hits me regardless of where I am.”
Sometimes, she’ll practice in her office in the middle of the day. She locks the door and puts up a “do not disturb” sign, taking a few minutes for herself.
“This allows my workspace to not only represent the hustle and bustle of work, but now when I enter my office I also have calming, relaxing experiences to draw from and remember.”
3. Schedule stillness
If you aren’t creating stillness spontaneously, try to schedule it and keep this time sacred, she said. Or set an alarm on your phone.
“Make it a priority and let others know in your life so that they can honor this time you are setting aside for yourself.”
4. Find a favorite spot
Again, you can experience stillness anywhere. But it can help to start at a favorite place. This might be outdoors, such as a park or bench, or at home, in complete silence, she said.
5. Listen to soft music
Sometimes, people are afraid of being alone with their thoughts. This is when creating more structure is helpful. One way is by listening to soft, slow music. Music is also great when silence becomes deafening.
6. Repeat calming phrases
Repeating calming phrases can give your stillness structure. Lawson shared these examples:
- “I am calm and still.”
- “I can create stillness.”
“Stillness has a lot of looks, and in my book, there are no right or wrong ways to do it,” Lawson said. “Because once we start talking about the ‘right way,’ then there we go right back to the productivity and achievement mindset.”
She shared these additional examples of stillness:
- directing thoughts to peaceful statements
- focusing on a soothing image that evokes a sense of stillness, such as a natural landscape
- taking a slow walk without talking or listening to music
- sitting down and taking deep breaths until you feel stillness in your body
- closing your eyes for several moments
Remember that “just because the world around us is in full-blown chaos doesn’t mean we always need to join [in],” Lawson said. She shared this quote from Hermann Hesse: “Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat any time.”