Thirteen years ago, there was so much dissonance in my life. On paper, my life probably looked pretty good. I’m pretty sure I was the youngest person in management at a large telecommunications company. I had gathered the courage to leave a long term relationship that wasn’t right for me, and I had recently claimed my independence by getting my first apartment.

The truth however, was something completely different. I was working long hours at a job that felt meaningless to me. Although I had made some bold moves in my life, I was feeling stuck. I struggled with emotional eating and gained 40 pounds.

I was building my life around what I thought I was supposed to want, and I had never stopped for long enough to figure out what I actually wanted.

I didn’t know how to turn it around. I suffered from insomnia, had little to no energy, and was very anxious.I felt very isolated and alone. I was a smart, ambitious woman who should be able to do whatever she wanted. How could I have let this happen?

The little voice in my head had no sympathy for me. My own decisions put me in this place, and I should just suck it up and put a smile on my face. After all, other people had way bigger problems than me. Who did I think I was to complain? To want more for myself? Who was I to dream? What I had was reliable, and it wouldn’t be practical to reassess my trajectory this far in. Besides, other people would be affected if I switched routes now, and it was my job to keep them happy, to keep up my end of the bargain.

I held on for as long as I could. Come to think of it, I probably held on longer than I could because there came a point when it didn’t even feel like a choice anymore. I had a breakdown (at work, no less), which turned out to be the beginning of the rest of my life. I had gone so far that I had sunk into depression, and was experiencing serious anxiety and an eating disorder. I left work that day and didn’t return for six months. I dove deep into healing.

One of the most profoundly helpful practices I discovered along the way is mindfulness. You may have heard of it, since it’s sort of a buzz-word these days. Mindfulness is a meditation practice that’s all about being in the moment – noticing what you’re thinking as you’re thinking it, and noticing what you’re feeling as you’re feeling it.

As I practiced, I started to notice something amazing happening…

I could stop myself mid-mouthful when I started bingeing.
I could calm myself down before over-reacting and taking my fears out on my partner.
I started to sleep better.
I could follow through on things more easily.

Stress would come and go, but it wouldn’t interrupt my plans so badly anymore. I felt like I was getting control of my life again.

I’m so passionate about this practice that I’ve created an online course called Mindfulness for Busy People. I’ll be launching it in a couple of weeks, so sign up here to make sure you get all the details. It’s chock-full of simple practices that will integrate easily with your already-full schedule to help you relieve stress now.

Today, I want to leave you with a short exercise you can do anytime to help bring yourself back into the moment. You can even try it right now, as you’re reading this. Check in with your body, and see if you can sense your own heartbeat. You might feel it in your chest or your head or your thumbs. Just take a moment, take a breath or two, and observe your own pulse. Allow yourself to settle into the wordless wonder of it, just for a moment. If you can, try staying with it for 5-10 breaths. Notice how you feel.

By getting out of our heads and into the moment, we can find peace. We can find freedom. We can refocus our energy on what matters. And we can return to it again and again.

Have you tried mindfulness? What did it do for you? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.