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2024 Word of the Year: "Slow" - A Guide to Improving Mental Health through Conscious Choices

Last year, as the holidays and obligations started to mount in front of me, I found my brain frantically trying to keep up with the break-neck speed it would need to work at to be able to accomplish everything I want to, in the manner I deem "good enough" (we'll save the topic of perfectionism for another time). I'm not sure what it was but I had a realization; an image came to my mind of peddling frantically on a bike as I started to wobble and lose control. And then it hit me, I needed to slow down and refocus.

So my word of 2024 is SLOW.

When I took time to reflect on the word "slow", I started to become more aware of the speed of things happening around me; How long a task took, the rate at which I moved through my social media feeds, toddler trying to get somewhere specific. And then it hit me. He is SO much better at being able to feel life and be in the moment when he moves at that pace. I think there is a lot we can learn from toddlers/kids when it comes to how to approach life, slow is just the start.

Toddler sitting on a recliner with a stuffed orange fox and a Bluey stuffed animal while reading a construction book

My brain surprised me with how it so quickly links "slow" as a synonym for "stop", when in fact the two are not one and the same. The reality is, that "slow" is actually much closer to "leisurely" than it is to "stop". My toddler doesn't understand time schedules and obligations like I do, and he seems a lot happier moving from one activity to another (even if it's not one of his choosing) if he is allowed to do so at his own pace. Which then had me asking the question of, "are the responsibilities all really SO terrible, or is it the pace in which I'm expected (or expecting myself) to complete them that is the problem?"

Before I committed to this word, I wanted to try it out on a day I was feeling particularly anxious (which also feels rushed for me). I noticed that I was having trouble sitting still, organizing my thoughts, or completing a task fully, and with that notice, I reminded myself to slow down. I stopped my body in place. Standing in the hallway in my house I took a deep breath and noticed how it felt like all of the rushed/anxious energy around me seemed to keep moving while I stood still.

A crowd of people in a city that are blurry while walking in different directions

I was in complete control of my body in that moment. While I couldn't stop the energy or pressure around me, I didn't need to behave in the same way as it. I was consciously making a choice about how I was going to conduct myself. When I moved from the place I stood, I did so with exaggeratedly slow steps forward, controlling my breathing as it went back to my day. This is not to say that I was not tempted to reengage with the hurried energy around me, it's just to say that I was able to make a choice to do something different, rather than letting my environment dictate how I would behave. With the consciousness re-engaged, I was able to make choices to take things off my plate or remind myself that it was okay if the "to-do list" did not turn into a "done list" today. And as much as it pains me to say it, not everything in life is a competition or a race (something my brain definitely struggles to remember). The most important thing was being present in each moment, just like my toddler.

What is a word/intention for the year if it doesn't have action steps to back it up? So here are my action steps for implementing "slow" into 2024.

  1. Multiple times throughout the day, check in with my mind and body to see the speed at which they are feeling they are trying to perform.

  2. Be conscious about not over-scheduling my life (say no to things that don't fill me up or aren't 100% necessary, leave enough time in the schedule to allow my toddler to go at his own speed, schedule in breaks)

  3. Challenge thoughts that aren't factually correct (eg: THIS HAS TO GET DONE TODAY to, I would like to get this done today but the only timeframe is the one I created, which can be changed if needed)

  4. Don't be hard on myself when I fall out of alignment with this word (because it's bound to happen), just acknowledge it and reset.

I love planning for the new year--dreaming of the things I want to do, the goals I want to accomplish, and how I want to feel. Picking a word is only part of that for me. How do you prepare for the new year or how do you feel about goals/words for the new year?

Caucasian, female with brown hair, Brooke Halliday

Brooke Halliday, MA, LPCC (she/her)

Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor

Certified EMDR Therapist

Owner of Redbird Counseling

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