Stress can be a prominent part of many people's lives, often causing them to move rapidly and forget to slow down. In the United States, over 30% of adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time, and that number is expected to grow in the future. For that reason and others, many people are showing an increased interest in natural ways to slow down and reduce stress.
One strategy that may be beneficial for grounding oneself is mindfulness. Understanding mindfulness and how to practice it can help you start a self-care routine unique to your schedule and needs.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of being fully present in the moment—aware of your actions, thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. Practicing mindfulness may help you focus on tasks, reduce stress, calm your body and mind, and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular, with the number of people engaging in the practice in the US tripling between 2012 and 2017.
Living mindfully may seem simple, but in a fast-paced society, achieving a state of mindfulness can be difficult. Many people encounter opportunities for distraction during the day and may be pulled away from the present moment without realizing it.
Think about your daily life. You may find that, at times, you get lost in your thoughts and drift off. Or, you may spend time scrolling through your phone, even with other people. With the many distractions available, living in the present can be challenging. Mindfulness is a strategy to address this common challenge.
Mindfulness can help you stay in the present and recognize your thoughts without judging them. For those who struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health-related concerns, this focus on the present and connection with your thoughts and feelings can positively impact your symptoms. A growing body of research shows that mindfulness can reduce stress, improve focus, and decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How To Practice Mindfulness
Clearing your mind and focusing on the present moment can be more complicated than it sounds. It often takes repetition and consistency to develop a mindfulness practice. However, with a few practical techniques, you may get started as you go about your day. The following tips can help you practice mindfulness in your daily life.
Pay Attention To Your Breathing
Although humans are constantly breathing, many people don't take time to stop and focus on their breath. One way to practice mindfulness is to focus on your breath when your mind wanders. To start, take a moment to consider how it feels to take in air and expel it from your lungs. Notice the air flowing in and out of your nose and mouth. Feel your stomach expand and then fall as you breathe.
Focusing on your breath can bring you to the present and help you practice sustained attention, which are both mindfulness principles. In addition, studies show that deep breathing can foster calmness and reduce stress.
As a core component of mindfulness practice, meditation can alleviate anxiety, improve focus, and promote calmness. To start, find a quiet place to sit or stand still and focus on your breathing. As you breathe, draw your attention to your physical and mental sensations. Are you warm, tired, or energetic? Are you happy, angry, or bored? Try to take note of your surroundings. What does the environment feel, sound, smell, and look like?
Meditation can help you better recognize how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors connect, which may benefit your mental well-being in the long term.
Consider Reducing Distractions
You might feel tempted to wear headphones and listen to music or the latest podcast while walking or commuting. To live more mindfully, try leaving the headphones at home at least once a day while you're out. Using headphones can cut you off from your senses and the outside world and prevent you from experiencing what is happening around you. Walking around without headphones may free your mind to tune in to your surroundings and the present moment.
Listen to the sounds of the city, nature, or a companion. You can also try an activity like mindfulness-based running if you like to go for jogs. To practice this exercise, follow these steps:
- Go on a 30-minute run. Ensure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing for the temperature and location.
- As you run, notice five objects of a specific color within the first five minutes.
- Within the first ten minutes, try to spot at least three workers (it could be a mailman, delivery person, or police officer).
- Within the first twenty minutes, try to notice three different scenes (ex: kids playing, a mom talking to her child, or a couple on a date).
- Within the entire run, note five aspects of your environment that you find beautiful.
Find Your Flow
Do you have a hobby that you fully engage with, to the point that time flies and you don't even realize it? This state of being is called a flow state—a zone that allows you to become hyper-focused on an activity. You can experience this state in everyday life while doing chores, working, or conversing.
Think about how you get into a flow state normally. Do you find a quiet space? Turn your phone off or eliminate other distractions? Setting yourself up to get into that mindset can help you get started. Try to focus on one project at a time instead of multitasking. If you find your mind wandering, try returning it to the task at hand. Getting into a flow state can help you stay in the moment, block out distractions, and get more done.
Mix Up Your Routine
Many individuals become so used to the world around them that they stop paying attention when in familiar environments. Try switching up your routine to introduce new experiences and keep you engaged with your surroundings. You can take a different route to work, go to a new park, or try a different coffee shop for your morning drink. Making minor changes to switch up your everyday routine may allow you to engage with your environment and practice being present in your surroundings.
Slow Down Your Meals
You might notice that you struggle to focus entirely on enjoying a meal. While eating, many people read the newspaper, scroll through their phones, or watch TV. Mindful eating can help you slow down and enjoy your food—and it might improve your digestion.
To practice mindful eating, try not to do anything else when you sit down for a meal. Sit with your food and eat slowly. As you do so, notice the food's textures, appearance, and smells. Take note of the different flavors and how the food feels in your mouth. This practice can teach you to be fully present while allowing you to connect with your senses in ways that many people miss out on during mealtimes.
Complete Everyday Tasks Mindfully
One way to practice mindfulness while increasing productivity is by doing chores, work, or other daily tasks deliberately and purposefully. You can practice mindfulness while you clean the house, mow the lawn, drive to work, or exercise. Doing so may make chores more pleasant, including those you may have found particularly undesirable. Research shows that mindfulness can help individuals feel more comfortable completing tasks they previously avoided.
For example, try to be present and engaged when you're doing the dishes. Focus on the task at hand, how you're going to complete it, and what it feels like as you're doing it. What does the soap feel like? How do the plates feel in your hand? Draw your attention to the ritual of the task instead of focusing on unrelated stimuli. You may find that time goes by much faster, and you enjoy doing certain chores.
Foster Mindfulness With Therapy
Mindfulness is commonly used in popular forms of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). However, many people find these forms of therapy inaccessible in person, as it may take time out of their schedule or involve long wait times. Online mindfulness therapy can be beneficial in these cases, and you can often find most therapeutic modalities online.
Studies suggest that online therapy can help individuals utilize mindfulness techniques while managing symptoms of mental health conditions. For example, the results of one study showed that participants in online therapy that had a mindfulness component experienced significant decreases in symptoms of anxiety and depression. Researchers found that participants' mindfulness scores and psychological well-being and function increased.
If you're interested in exploring the benefits of mindfulness while working with a professional, online therapy might offer support. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can work with a licensed therapist remotely through video, voice, or in-app messaging. Additionally, your therapist can connect you with valuable resources, such as at-home exercises, to help you practice mindfulness outside sessions.
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