Brittany Bouffard: “Do things slower”

…Rather than defining yourself on the rush or the productivity, consider what really matters in your lifetime for yourself. Even if you want to be financially stable or want to give your kids everything you can, great. But do include yourself on the priority list. Slow down enough to see when enough is actually enough […]

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…Rather than defining yourself on the rush or the productivity, consider what really matters in your lifetime for yourself. Even if you want to be financially stable or want to give your kids everything you can, great. But do include yourself on the priority list. Slow down enough to see when enough is actually enough and you can relax in the good things.

As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, CYT.

Brittany Bouffard is a psychotherapist, speaker, and trainer in private practice helping professionals and millennials realize their enoughness. Brittany has worked and consulted clinically on three continents at universities, and in community mental health and nonprofits, providing expertise on mental health, mindfulness in psychotherapy, suicide prevention, and wellness in the workplace. As an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), Certified Yoga Teacher and meditation teacher, and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, Brittany supports authentic professional clients healing from trauma, loss, childhood pains, and anxiety to live their most whole, authentic selves.

Thank you so much for doing this interview with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

My pleasure! I started with a journalism degree hearing people’s stories. Therein I realized my empathetic nature pointed me to change the way I heard stories from reporting to psychology, which meant missing out on beloved writing and editing, but allowed me to shape my career by what I found most fulfilling: healing people’s hurt and our resilience. Also, I luckily found extensive hatha yoga practice in college, which then led me to Buddhist studies and mindfulness practice. During graduate school I also became a yoga teacher, which both expanded my own yoga practice and opened up to me the world of how body-based our mental health and well-being are linked. There was a lot of listening to my early life passions and gut to steer my work toward what felt like the truest me.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

To many degrees of course rush is determined by culture, career, personality, and nervous system. A prevalent United States majority culture phenomenon of late is the instilled pressure to do more and thusly stay busy, rushed. Generally this being connected to career, there is a performative element also of get-ahead mentality or work more to make more money. Similarly, in raising a family there can be the implicit expectation to do more for the home and children, to maintain activities and be socially for the family. And as we hear in the zeitgeist, the common reply to “how are you?” is often “busy!” or “stressed!” or the most typical “fine” when someone is not actually feeling fine but instead on hyperdrive trying to multitask.

One’s built-in personality and biology from genetics can also serve as a factor in busy rush. Many people are genetically prone to anxiety which can have a frenzied quality underneath to rush rather than to slow. Or as many of us know someone with a personality propensity, whether by nature or by nurture, to stay rushed and continue doing more, where it seems they can rarely relax. Most of our rush lives in the nervous system, where a sympathic nervous system arousal of fight, flight, and freeze, can get stuck on to a degree, whether from patterning or even from past stressful experiences. Here someone can feel they literally have trouble winding down, speaking more slowly, or taking a break. The nervous system can however learn to find calm — that rest and digest — of the parasympathtic nervous system more frequently.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

People often believe that rushing accomplishes more, yet it does not necessarily, especially when we consider quality. The brain cannot truly multitask. It actually is just flipping between tasks very quickly, which can lead to lower quality of work or lower output given the extra steps and effort. Most importantly, rushing usually creates the bad type of stress. It is quite literally a stress state (sympathetic nervous system arousal) that countless studies have found as toxic for the physical body to remain in. Physiology is designed to rush in spurts when we need it but not as the daily constant. This leads to exhausted bodies and minds, which rightly affect your physical health and mental health including mood, anxiety, and how you talk to yourself. Negative self talk loves rush: it wants more fodder to say you aren’t doing enough or haven’t completed the endless to-do list. In numerous ways, rushing negatively impacts you yet with the guise of helping you to “succeed” and “be good” by getting things done.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

Slowing down is the opportunity to be more present in life, more mindful to how you are, what you need, what others need like your spouse or children or even work, and allows for a relationship with yourself and the goodness of life — rather than rushing through on autopilot. Do you remember when you last cherished a pleasant experience or meal or joke? So often rush leads to autopilot of flying through wonderful things without taking the presence to really feel them, taste them, or nourish ourselves or others. Rushing leads to diengagement with yourself and others — you say yes although you do not have the bandwidth; you sit there at dinner but your mind or body are elsewhere.

Consider the image of slowing down: your body breathes, your mind chatter quiets, you can walk rather than run to your next task or errand, you can enjoy whatever is in front of you. You could also attend more intentionally to your upset friend or partner, or listen more clearly to your work client to clarify a project. You would notice when you’re smiling — for real smiling. You could slow down enough to ask yourself what you want next rather than what your list forces you to do.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1- Write a sticky note or reminder in your phone to slow down. When attempting to start a new habit, visual reminders are incredibly useful. And think how hard it is to stop the rush?! We need an invitational reminder, otherwise it might never happen! When you notice the reminder, then try one of the below ideas.

2- Take three full rounds of breath. If you’ve been on rush mode, your nervous system needs relief in the form of physical slowness and care. Think “breathing in, breathing out” and that’s one round. Do this slowly three full times, taking your time. It will probably only take 10–15 seconds. If you don’t think you can give that to yourself, think again and reassess. Your system needs to know it can breathe and feel safe. When your body is in go-go stress response, it can sense that as threat even though you’re simply rushing between meetings.

3- Check in with yourself at your pause. When you slow and pause, ask yourself how you’re doing. What is the quality of your: thoughts (rapid, worrying, judging?), sensations (tight chest, hunger, shoulders to your ears?) and emotions (ignoring sadness, anxiety, or personal life difficulty?). Offer yourself kind words or coaching like you would to a friend with anything tough that you find. Or take a stretch break or grab water and a snack.

4- Do something you want rather than what your to-do list or your anxious hurried thoughts suggest next. When you rush throughout your day just checking things off, you ignore yourself. And sure you think this makes you more productive right? Wrong. Research shows that taking a 10–15 minute break each hour increases productivity. Nobody makes it very far working 8 hours without a break. Here’s why: you’ve ignored: your thirst, your shallow breathing, your underlying stress about dinner tonight, your emotions from an argument last night, and that ache in your back. As those accumulate, you might seem productive yet parts of you are struggling and reducing both your motivation and energy. That ultimately reduces your abilities to keep going. A runner can only run so long without sustenance right? And as much as you might wish to ignore unpleasant feeling emotions, they will stay there until you attend to yourself. And if you don’t attend, well then there’s another argument for tonight in store.

5- Utilize transitions. If a sticky note is not doing the job, or you want to move to a next idea, slow down during transitions in your day. When you get in your car or before you open your computer, pause. Seriously pause. Take your hands off the steering wheel or laptop mouse — and sit on them if you have to! Then just stop and notice. Notice sounds you hear, sensations you feel (tension, temperature, lightness in the body), what you see and textures you feel. Even if if you slow and pause for just 5 seconds, it gives your system a break and teaches it over time how to slow and pause more often. The more transitions you try it with, the more small slows you will have that really add up to feeling better throughout your day.

6- Do things slower. Sounds silly, right? Similar to pausing though at a transition like pouring your coffee, then try to walk slowly to your next task. A meeting can wait 20 seconds for you to arrive, slower, more peacefully and more fully present. Practice speaking more slowly on a call or to your family. Drive more slowly. Grocery shop with more mindful steps and mindful breathing. Try to at least notice when you’re rushing. Usually the rush prevents even seeing where it’s occurring. So try for a day to notice whenever you’re rushing, even if you do not change it quite yet. It is a good place to start.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is being present and aware, with non-judging curiosity, to whatever is happening right now. You might think mindfulness requires seated meditation or a retreat, yet you do already have mindful moments in your day. When you notice the hot shower feels wonderful or the ice cream tastes delicious. Or you notice someone else is stressed and you sit to talk with them. Trust that you are at times mindful in your day. The idea here to is slow down in order to experience more of that. Or to have more presence of mind in order to slow down. They compliment each other beautifully and generally arrive together.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

Take a couple minute break every hour and ask yourself what you need. Ask yourself if you are zooming around like something is on fire. It probably is not on fire. So let yourself slow and get a cup of tea, or talk with a co-worker, or stretch out on your floor. Do these things with mindful awareness which can mean not losing yourself while talking with someone else, and really tasting your tea. Letting the work rush rule you keeps you trapped, less happy, and less productive and creative. Pay yourself some kind attention. Say something nice to yourself — maybe not just about your output. See if you could use more boundaries today. Would a walk do you wonders? Then slowly move toward what you need, with noticing your steps and how things feel.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices

Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Peace is Every Step is my absolute favorite entrée into mindfulness and beautiful reminder to return to. Tara Brach’s books and podcasts are incredible, as are Jack Kornfield’s.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. Most people cannot believe that just walking as though you have nowhere to go is enough. They think that striving and competing are normal and necessary. Try practicing aimlessness for just five minutes, and you will see how happy you are during those five minutes.”

This fits beautifully with slowing down. Particularly what I work on with so many clients: your happiness and your worthiness are not defined by striving or doing. Instead, just by being you are perfectly enough. No amount of rushing will improve that and no amount of rushing will allow you to feel it and know it, so slow down and know.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As above, rather than defining yourself on the rush or the productivity, consider what really matters in your lifetime for yourself. Even if you want to be financially stable or want to give your kids everything you can, great. But do include yourself on the priority list. Slow down enough to see when enough is actually enough and you can relax in the good things.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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