Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment. Scientific examination has validated that mindfulness is a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness. Researchers believe the benefits of mindfulness are related to its ability to dial down the body’s response to stress.
One powerful, yet simple, mindfulness activity involves conscious breathing. It engages the parasympathetic nervous system which calms us down. This keeps our stress hormones in check and quiets our busy minds. There are many different breathing patterns that you can use but I like square breathing. You simply breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold at the top for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, and hold at the bottom for four. Try this pattern three or four times and check in with how you feel.
Meditation is a form of mindfulness that typically begins with your breathing. It involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, and sensations of breathing on parts of your body, bringing your attention back when your mind starts to wander. Not sure how to do it? There are lots of great apps that can help, with Calm and Headspace being two of the most popular.
We are typically not consciously present. Our brain’s default mode is to be habitually lost in our thoughts—running a sort of internal narrative. As we’re going about our usual daily activities, our brains switch into this low-energy state, which is not mindful. When this occurs, try to refocus your mind on the task at hand. Set periodic reminders on your phone and take a mindful breath and refocus when your mind starts to wander. You can even put a rubber band on your wrist and snap it as a reminder. You will be more focused and productive!
Mindfulness doesn’t always have to take place when we are sitting quietly. It can happen with movement! Yoga and tai chi are great mindfulness activities as well as walking in nature. You can really be mindful with any type of exercise. Just set your intention and do your best to stay in the present moment.
There is so much adversity, negativity, and uncertainty in the world right now. It just takes a scroll through social media or a look at the day’s headlines to launch us into a negative spiral. Gratitude is a form of mindfulness that involves expressing appreciation for what we have. There are a number of activities that you can do to practice gratitude. A few suggestions include keeping a gratitude journal, writing a letter of gratitude or putting three things in a gratitude jar that you are thankful for each day.
One final mindfulness tip is to unplug periodically. Technology certainly isn’t a bad thing, as it allows us to navigate the world around us with greater ease. But it’s also important to unplug every now and then to focus on taking care of yourself. All that connection can be very distracting.
In conclusion, our world is a stressful place. Practicing mindfulness is the number one strategy that can help! Try some of the activities suggested to protect your well-being and live a more peaceful life.