Everything You Need To Know About How To Practice Mindfulness
It is no secret that many people today are highly stressed, frustrated, and anxious. In the United States, over 30% of adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives, and that number is expected to grow in the future. It is no wonder, then, that more and more people are showing an increased interest in natural ways to reduce stress and anxiety, such as mindfulness. If you have been experiencing any heightened feelings of depression, anxiety, stress, or an overall decline in mental well-being, consider experimenting with mindfulness practice.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is simply the act of being fully present in the moment and aware of what we are doing and our surroundings. Doing this allows us not to get overwhelmed when things do not go as planned.
Living mindfully may seem simple, but in today's world, it can be quite difficult to achieve a state of mindfulness. We constantly encounter opportunities for distraction and do frequently get pulled away from the present moment without even realizing it. Think about your daily life. You probably spend an ample amount of time getting lost in your thoughts and drifting off into a daydream, or mindlessly scrolling through your phone, even when you are with other people. Technology makes it very easy to disconnect from our surroundings and the present. This is part of the reason why so many people are interested in practicing mindfulness today. With the plethora of distractions available to us at all times, it is harder than ever to live in the present moment fully.
Mindfulness And Mental Health
For those who struggle with depression, anxiety, or excessive stress, focusing on the present moment and not getting caught up in your thoughts can make a positive impact on daily life. Mindfulness teaches that our thoughts are not real and that the present moment is all that matters. If you truly focus on the present moment, and not the past or future, there is nothing to be stressed or anxious about.
While mindfulness is a wonderful thing to incorporate in your life, it is not a cure-all for mental health. If you struggle with any of these conditions or another mental health condition, it is still a good idea to work with a licensed mental health professional. Therapy, either in-person or online, can make a huge difference in your mental health. Your counselor or therapist can also assist you in learning how to practice mindfulness.
How To Practice Mindfulness For Beginners
Focusing on and living in the present moment can be more difficult than it sounds. If you have spent your entire life listening to and getting lost in your thoughts, learning to clear your mind and not respond reactively in situations is a big challenge. Here are some things you can do to learn how to practice mindfulness:
Pay Attention To Your Breathing
We are all constantly breathing, but when was the last time you paid attention to your breath? One of the principles of yoga, which helps millions of people with anxiety and living in the present, is to focus on your breath when your mind starts to wander. The same strategy can be used off the yoga mat in everyday life. To start experimenting with mindfulness, simply take a moment to focus on your breath, and feel the air flowing in and out of your nose and mouth. This will force you to only think about what is happening in the present and is a great way to get started with mindfulness and taking a break from your internal dialogue. Plus, doing this breathing exercise for even a few moments can help make you feel calmer.
Lose The Headphones
It has become common practice to instinctively put on headphones and listen to music or the latest podcast while we are walking or commuting. To live more mindfully, try ditching the headphones while you walk, at least once a day. Putting on headphones automatically cuts you off from your senses and the outside world, and forces you to ignore what is happening around you to focus on what you are listening to.
By walking around without headphones on, your mind is free to tune in to your surroundings and the present moment. Listen to the sounds of the city, or visually focus on the buildings or scene around you that you may have missed in the past. Notice how it feels when your feet touch the ground and the sensation of the muscles in your leg supporting the movement. Practicing mindfulness while walking even once a day is a great start to learning how to focus on the moment anytime, and can turn your stroll or commute into a more relaxing experience.
Find Your Flow
Everyone has their hobbies and activities that they truly love doing, and can make them feel content, happy, and relaxed. Your favorite activity may be yoga, painting, woodworking, cooking, hiking, swimming, reading, or anything else. Think about something that always puts you in a good mood, that makes time fly by. Getting lost in your hobbies and having time fly by is known as the state of being in "flow."
Think about doing your favorite hobby and what goes through your mind while you do them. It is likely that you are not thinking about your worries or problems. When we are in flow doing something we love, we get lost in the activity, and our minds no longer wander, at least for a brief time. These hobbies that put you in a state of flow are an example of mindfulness in action; when doing something you love, you are so engrossed in the experience that your mind does not feel the need to wonder anymore. Take more time each week to get lost in your flow and notice how it makes you feel. This is a helpful way to understand what mindfulness can do for you when you start practicing mindfulness in other areas of your life.
Mix Up Your Routine
Most people feel much happier when they are on vacation than in their daily life. Of course, one reason for this is a break from work or other responsibilities. But it is also because we become much more tuned in to our surroundings when we are in a new place. When you see the same things day after day, it becomes easy to ignore them and get lost in your thoughts. But when you see new things, you want to be present and absorb them, and you spend less time ruminating over your thoughts.
You do not need to go on vacation to experience this. Try switching up your routine to introduce new environments into your life 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. Even making simple changes to switch up your everyday routine gives you the opportunity to engage with your environment and practice being present in your surroundings.
Slow Down Your Meals
It is rare that people today fully focus on one thing at a time, including meals. While eating, most people also read the newspaper, scroll through their phone, or watch TV. When you do this, you miss out on actually fully tasting and enjoying your food, and pull yourself away from the present moment. Additionally, you are less likely to feel full and satisfied after you eat because you were not focusing on the food.
To practice mindfulness every day, challenge yourself to be more mindful while you eat. Do not do anything else when you sit down for a meal. Just sit with your food and eat slowly, fully tasting your food and noticing how it fills you up. This practice not only teaches you to be fully present but allows you to connect with your senses and body in ways that most people miss out on while multitasking during meal times. Try to keep this mantra in mind: "When you eat, eat." Be fully present and focus on the action, rather than trying to multitask.
Meditation comes up a lot in regards to mindfulness and self-care, and for a good reason. Mindfulness meditation can work wonders for anxiety, focus, living in the present, and learning to be mindful.
Meditation can be a hard practice to start if you have never done it before. A good place to start for beginners is to download one of the many free smartphone apps that offer guided meditations. Having someone guide you through it makes it easier to focus on what you are doing and can bring you back when your mind does start to wander. Another tip is to focus on your breath when you feel your mind start to wander. Even meditating for a few minutes can make you feel completely renewed, and is great practice for living more mindfully in general.
Observe Your Thoughts
Stress and anxiety are largely products of the mind. We have thoughts about all the things we have to do or things that we have done wrong in the past or could go wrong in the future. When these thoughts arise, remember to simply observe them, and not let yourself get wrapped up in them. Allow yourself to have the thoughts, but do not allow yourself to believe them.
If you truly focus on the present moment, you will find that thoughts about stress and anxiety are not reality; they are situations that you have crafted in your head. Let these thoughts pass and bring yourself back to the present. This can take some time to master, and comes more easily to some than others. But, once you learn how to observe your thoughts rather than reacting to them, it can make a huge difference in your stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness has many benefits, but it cannot cure stress, anxiety, and depression on its own. As you start incorporating these mindfulness practices into your life, remember that it is still a good idea to work with a therapist or counselor.