“I can’t do mindfulness! I don’t have time!” Hearing the word “mindfulness” can create images of sitting in quiet meditation for hours on a beach or mountaintop. We believe it takes great effort and dedication to have a mindfulness practice. And the thought of having to be still and silent can cause feelings of anxiety in some people. The idea of practicing mindfulness seems out of reach for many in a world that relishes and glorifies productivity, activity, and busyness. However, being mindful is becoming recognized as a very effective way to manage mental health and overall well-being.
What is mindfulness exactly?
At its core, mindfulness is being in the present moment. It is using all the senses to experience what the moment has to offer. It is letting go of the past and being unflustered by the future, if only in that moment. Mindfulness practice consists of being non-judgmental of thoughts or emotions that are present, accepting the reality of what is (whether positive or troubling). Cultivating a mindfulness practice can be beneficial to help manage anxiety, worry, racing thoughts and can bring a greater sense of peace and joy overall. And surprisingly, it can be very easy to adopt in everyday life! Check out these 5 easy ways to practice mindfulness:
Although breathing is necessary for our survival, we rarely pay attention to this automatic function of our bodies. It is said that most people breathe quite shallowly for most of their waking hours. We can use mindfulness to become aware of our breath in the moment by focusing on the action of breathing. This is a wonderful way to manage anxiety and stress!
Try this – while sitting still, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing. Focus on the air entering and leaving your body while breathing normally. Also pay attention to the rise and fall of your chest and diaphragm. Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly, observing the feeling of your lungs filling and how your body may change when allowing more air to enter. Do this for 2-3 minutes. Notice how you feel more relaxed and present after doing this exercise.
2. Take a Walk
Walking is another automatic part of our existence to transport ourselves from one place to another. Many of us walk for exercise. However when we walk, we can do so with mindful intent. Walking can involve most of our senses when we are fully focused on the full experience of the activity. When walking, pay attention to what you are seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling. For example, notice the sights around you – flowers, people, buildings, animals. Listen to the sounds of birds, cars, the wind. Take in the scent of nature or of food cooking. Feel the sun (or rain!) on your face or the soft breeze on your skin. The good thing about this practice is that it can be done anytime – whether taking a 2 hour hike in the woods or walking from your car into the grocery store!
3. Eat Mindfully
Eating is one of the more enjoyable elements of life as a good meal can cause highly pleasurable feelings. It is also one activity that uses all of the senses. However, we can be so busy or distracted that we barely pay attention to what and how we are eating. It is easy to multitask when eating – taking lunch at our desk, while watching tv, or simply standing at the counter taking bites of food while our children are eating or otherwise occupied.
Next time you eat, especially if eating alone, try paying attention to all aspects of your food. Take the time to appreciate what it looks like before digging in. Smell the aroma of the food. Is it sizzling or making a sound when you bite into it? Notice the texture and temperature as you chew. And lastly, fully embrace how it tastes. Chew slowly and take deliberate bites, fully enjoying the experience of eating. You may even want to express gratitude for the simple pleasure of nourishing your body.
4. Do a Body Scan
How much stress and tension do we acquire during the course of the day? If we feel anxious or worried we can carry this tension around in our body. And at the end of the day, this residual stress can even interfere with being able to fall asleep. A body scan can help identify and release this tension that has built up during a busy day.
To do a body scan, you will be focusing on each part of the body individually and progressively. Starting at the top of the head, move your attention slowly down your body – your face, neck, shoulders, arms, torso, back, legs and feet – noticing where you are holding tension. Stop anywhere you do feel stress and focus on relaxing and releasing the tension in that area. As you move down the body, tell yourself silently to relax each body part. This is a very good technique to do when preparing to sleep – you may find yourself drifting off before you reach your feet!
5. Yes – Meditation!
Meditation is one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness as it allows us to be fully in the present moment, creating a stillness of mind and body. Meditation does not have to be lengthy to be of benefit. Even 5-10 minutes of practice has a calming effect on the body and emotions. The key is to not expect perfection but to use this to build awareness of yourself, thoughts and feelings. There are many excellent guided meditation apps and podcasts that can aid in creating focus.
To meditate, sit or lay down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. If using a guided meditation, focus fully on the voice and visualizations being offered. If you are doing this yourself, use the breathing technique mentioned earlier to focus inward. You can use a phrase to focus on as well such as “I am at peace”, or “I feel gratitude” or whatever word or phrase has meaning to you. If you find your thoughts wandering, simply notice this and bring your awareness back to your phrase or your breathing, without judgment and without becoming frustrated. When finishing, allow yourself a brief time to notice how you are feeling before moving on with your day.
Mindfulness is a great tool to help us manage stress, anxiety and other difficult emotions. If you’re finding that you’re having difficulty getting started or that you’d benefit from going deeper, Lime Tree Counseling has the right therapist for you. Our team has the experience and expertise to help you move forward. Trying anxiety counseling, trauma counseling or addressing unresolved grief is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Our counseling services are offered in-person or via online counseling. Schedule with us today!