We have all caught ourselves worrying about our busy lives. Wake up, make breakfast, pack lunch, get the kids off to school, go to work, finish the big project at work, pick the kids up from school, take one kid to music lessons and another to practice, make dinner, do the laundry…the list goes on. Whatever fills your day, thinking about the exhaustive list of tasks and chores is likely to cause stress and anxiety, which can lead to health issues. What if we stopped worrying about everything that needs to get done and instead focused our attention on the present moment? The moment we’re actively experiencing. This is mindfulness: being present in your everyday life.
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention to your experiences, both physical and mental, and not judging them. This means instead of rejecting a feeling because it is “bad” or “good,” you learn to cope with it by not labeling it. For example, maybe you are working on a big project at work and you start to feel your heart racing as you realize the deadline is approaching. In mindfulness, you acknowledge the fact that your heart is racing, but don’t judge the feeling. Just acknowledge it’s there and accept it. While mindfulness is most often associated with meditation, the two don’t have to coexist. The best thing about incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine is that you can do it anywhere!
Benefits to consider of mindfulness:
- May help reduce anxiety and depression
- Improves focus and cognition
- Enhances emotional regulation and control
- Helps promote stress reduction while allowing the brain to become more adaptive to stressful or negative situations.
- Lower stress levels are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, improved immune function, lower blood sugar levels and reduced risk of early mortality.
- Enhanced self-insight, morality, intuition and the ability to modulate fear.
- May help improve sleep and reduce insomnia
- People who practice mindfulness report more positive moods
- May help reduce pain
What’s the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
- There is a lot of overlap between mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is specifically the awareness of what is going on that present moment. It can be both a formal or informal practice. For instance, mindfulness is stopping to breathe when the phone rings versus rushing to immediately answer it. Just because you are mindful of your experiences does not mean you are meditating. Just as there are many forms of meditations, there are many ways to define the practice as well.
- Meditation is the formal practice that encourages relaxation and attaining a state of consciousness different from your normal, waking state. One of the most common forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness meditation, you set aside time to intentionally pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment, bringing awareness to your breath, body and mind without judging any thoughts that come and pass.
Ways to incorporate mindfulness into your life
We all live busy lives. Being mindful doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to stop what you are doing to meditate. Here some ways to bring attention to your daily routines:
- Eating: Focus your attention on your meal. Invoke all your senses. How does the food smell? What is the taste and texture? What does it look like? Take note of all the colors on the plate. Be present at the meal without watching TV or scrolling through your phone.
- Walking: Mindful walking means being aware of every step you take. Take note to how your feet strike the ground and your specific, heal-to-toe rhythm. Notice the muscles in the legs and how your hips move. Is there any discomfort? If so that’s OK, remember not to judge! Take note to your breath, every inhale and exhale. Bring attention to your surroundings.
- Mindfulness meditation (the body scan): There are plenty of ways to meditate. One of my favorites is the body scan. The core of almost any meditation is the breath, so start your focus there, noticing the rise and fall of your stomach and the change in temperature from inhale to exhale. As you relax, bring focus to your head. Note any sensations on the top of your head, maybe there is tension in your scalp or you feel a draft. After a few minutes, shift your focus to your face, then neck, shoulders, arms, chest etc. until you have reached your feet. Always remember your mind is allowed to wander. If you have a thought pop up, simply acknowledge it without judgment and recognize that your mind has wandered off, and then return to your awareness back to your breath or scan. Start with a couple of minutes each day and increase over time.
- Showering: The shower is a perfect time to relax and forget about past and future events to focus on the now. As you stand in the shower, take note the temperature of the water, how does the water feel as it hits your body? Be mindful of the smell of your shower gel, soap or shampoo, the feeling of your hand or wash cloth passing through your hair or over your skin. Listen to the sound the water makes as it hits the shower floor. Take note to any thoughts that come up while you’re in the shower—remembering the importance of not passing judgment on them. Lastly, notice the feeling of the towel as you dry yourself off.
- Teeth brushing: Become mindful of the taste and texture of your toothpaste, the sensation in your arms as they go from side to side. Take note of the pressure of your feet on the surface of the bathroom floor.
In the digital world we live in, there are many apps that can help you incorporate mindfulness into your day. Just like anything else we do, learning mindfulness takes practice. Take some time today to be mindful and see how it can improve your day!