Life is constantly filled with uncertainty — especially during times like this. With the world spiraling out of our control, it’s natural for us to overthink and only look towards the future in order to cope with these difficult circumstances. Unfortunately, overthinking is an easy trap to fall into when we have so much going on in our lives. In fact, it’s a major contributor of our stress. It’s completely understandable to be overwhelmed with worries of how you will pay your next month’s rent or how you will manage your child’s education from home. However, by overthinking, we become so consumed with thoughts of our past and future that we miss the only moment that matters the most — the present. The one way to begin doing so is by practicing mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully engaged in the present moment without any distractions or judgement of our thoughts and feelings. It allows us to distance ourselves from our emotions without labeling them as good or bad. The creation of mindfulness has roots in Buddhism. However, most religions have some type of prayer or meditation technique that aids us to shift our thoughts from our preoccupations to better appreciate the present moment.
“Mindfulness, which includes tenderness and kindness toward ourselves, restores dimensions of our being. These have never actually been missing, just that we have been missing them, we have been absorbed elsewhere. When your mind clarifies and opens, your heart also clarifies and opens”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn (The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness Meditation)
Mindfulness vs. Meditation
You may be wondering: is mindfulness basically just meditation? Well, while mindfulness and meditation both have similar physical and mental health benefits, many don’t realize that they are two different things.
Mindfulness can be a form of meditation. However, it’s also simply an act of focusing on being in the present moment without any judgmental thoughts or feelings. For example, focusing solely on drinking a hot cup of tea while intaking its scent, warmth, and taste is a practice of mindfulness. It means being free of the what if’s and what maybe’s so we can be completely engaged in the moment without any distraction.
While mindfulness can be applied to any situation throughout the day, meditation is usually practiced for a specific amount of time. Mindfulness and meditation are complements of each other. Mindfulness supports and enriches meditation, while meditation nurtures and expands mindfulness. Meditation is simply an umbrella term that encompasses the practice of reaching an ultimate level of consciousness, concentration, and acknowledgement of the mind. It can involve dozens of techniques to reach this heightened level of consciousness: patience, compassion, and of course — mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness
In recent years, interest in mindfulness has surged as more people look for ways to cope with the challenges and ambiguities of their daily lives. Spending too much time outside of the present moment can make us depressed, anxious, and unmotivated. In fact, research has found that mindfulness is a key element of reducing our overall stress. Some experts believe that mindfulness works by helping people accept their experiences — especially painful emotions — rather than reacting to them with aversion or avoidance.
Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder and former director of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, influenced the practice of mindfulness meditation into mainstream medicine by demonstrating the benefits mindfulness can have on our physical and mental health.
Psychotherapists have recently turned to mindfulness meditation as a crucial element in treating a number of mental illnesses. Some of these include depression, anxiety disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). It has become increasingly common for mindfulness meditation to be combined with psychotherapy, for they both share the common goal of helping people gain perspectives on their maladaptive behaviors. Scientists have also found that mindfulness helps relieve stress, lowers blood pressure, treats heart disease, and reduces chronic pain. In fact, many studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can reduce pain without having to use endogenous opioid systems.
Mindfulness supports attitudes that contributes to a more satisfied life. By focusing on the present moment, many people find that mindfulness counteracts their ruminative worries of the future and regrets of the past. They are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem, and are better able to engage in activities and develop deeper connections with others. Thus, mindfulness makes it easier to appreciate the pleasures in life as they occur, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events.
Simple Techniques You Can Incorporate
There are numerous ways to practice mindfulness. It can be practiced at any time and anywhere, with whoever and whatever. Regardless of the technique, they all share the same goal: achieving a state of relaxation through the non-judgemental awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Here are some simple techiques you can incorporate into your daily routine:
1. Wake Up Mindfully
The best way to practice mindfulness the minute you wake up is by sitting in your bed in an upright and relaxed posture. Make sure your spine is straight. Then, close your eyes and take three long, deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Let your breath settle into its own rhythm, and focus on the sensations of your chest and stomach as they rise and fall.
2. Savor Every Bite
Normally, we tend to be distracted by our television, phones, or conversations as we eat. By doing so, we tend to feel less satisfied or nourished by the meal we just ate because we missed out on actually enjoying the food — from its delicious taste to its smell.
It can be helpful to remember this phrase: Eat when you eat. Drink when you drink. In other words, don’t attempt to do other things when you sit down for a meal. Simply focus all of your attention on whatever you’re eating or drinking and truly notice its taste, flavor, and texture.
3. Remember to Pause
Our brain runs on autopilot nearly half of the time because our neural networks reduces millions of sensory inputs to create habits, which allows us to do things quickly and keep up with this busy world. Mindfulness is the exact opposite of these processes — it slows the brain, not speed it up. It requires you to make intentional actions and decisions instead of relying on a habitual pattern.
Putting small pauses between actions in your day allows you to clear your mind and energize yourself for the new task ahead. For example:
- When someone calls you, pause and actually listen to the sound of your ringtone before you answer.
- Before you begin your work for the day, pause and feel the weight of your body as you sit down in your chair.
- When you take a shower, focus on the warmth of the water and the smell of the soap. Is the temperature too hot for you? Is it perfect? How does the touch of your skin feel? Is it soft? Familiar? Uncomfortable? Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you do this.
4. Listen Wholeheartedly
Most of us never genuinely listen when someone is speaking to us because we’re either too busy planning what to say next, judging what they’re saying, or zoning out altogether.
Next time you’re in a conversation, make it your goal to fully listen to what the other person is saying without getting lost in your thoughts. Trust that you will intuitvely know what to say next when it’s your turn.
Done correctly, mindfulness can lessen your stress and anxiety by allowing you to appreciate each small moment as it happens. With everything that is currently going on, mindfulness might be the trick you need to learn to be able to cope with the madness. If you don’t immediately feel a complete release of anxiety, that’s completely normal. Most of the benefits of mindfulness require consistent practice. So remember to invest in yourself and give yourself the love you deserve!