“Have you ever sat in a restaurant by yourself, using your phone as a crutch, scrolling aimlessly as a distraction?” asks Dr Elise Bialylew. “You’re not alone.”
It’s an easy escape. Dining solo may be daunting, but spending the entire time on your device can defeat the purpose of taking time out from work or other responsibilities.
Instead of enjoying your food and winding down, an hour spent with eyes glued to social feeds can leave you feeling more tense than when you sat down. Suddenly there are birthdays to acknowledge, articles to like, photos to post.
Bialylew, a psychiatrist, social entrepreneur and author, advocates for mindfulness in everyday situations like these. In 2012 she established Mindful in May, a fundraising campaign that teaches people around the world (including Magda Szubanski) to meditate, with proceeds going toward clean water projects in developing countries.
“Mindfulness helps us become more aware of our automatic behaviours, which can help us break habits like phone addiction,” Bialylew says. “We become more aware of what is happening each moment, so that somewhere between having the urge to check Instagram or WhatsApp, we’ll instead pause and ask, ‘Do I really want to be checking my phone now?’
“When you bring this awareness to moments of craving, you’ll be rewiring your brain in ways that make you a master – rather than slave – of your mind.”
Here are five tips Bialylew uses to transform solo dining time into a micro holiday for your mind.
Find a calm place to sit and breathe
“Your breath is intimately connected to your nervous system, so use it to your advantage. Choose a comfortable spot to sit and spend a few moments slowing your breath and extending your exhalation. This will quiet your nervous system, keeping you calm rather than reactive, and will help you make better decisions. Like what to order!”
Write away your worries
“Neuroscientific research demonstrates that when we’re stressed, talking or writing about how we’re feeling calms us down by activating the prefrontal cortex. With this in mind, why not spend the time waiting for your order to journal your stresses?”
Practice mindful listening
“One of the ways mindfulness can be so useful is through helping us notice when we are lost in unhelpful thinking about the past or the future. Through mindful listening, we tune into sound as a way of being completely in the moment, rather than lost [in worry]. Consciously tune into sounds around you. Listen mindfully to your waiter. Be fully there and interested. Tune into the sounds in the restaurant: clinking glasses, the background hum, the music. Immerse yourself in the present moment and free yourself – even if just for a few minutes – from the mental clutter of thinking and planning.”
Tune into your tastebuds
“When your food arrives, fully tune into the sense of taste. With each mouthful, notice the texture, the flavours. Is the taste at the back or front of your tongue? Mindful eating helps you savour your meal and make the pleasure last longer.”
Pop on your headphones and meditate
“When we’re stressed, the last thing we want to do is stop and meditate, but research shows that just 10 minutes [a day] can help you be more focused and effective. While you wait for the bill, why not do a quick body scan (tuning into the sensations of your body) or, if you’re not familiar with this technique, listen to your favourite meditation with earphones in (it’s possible to do this with your eyes open if you feel weird about closing them in public). After the 10 minutes is over, you’ll feel revived as you embark on the next chapter of your day.”