Your days may be overwhelmed with tasks, events, or plans that consume your thoughts and require you to constantly think one step ahead. While this allows you to accomplish a lot and be efficient with your time, it can also cause you to lose touch with the present. When you are constantly thinking about tomorrow or hypothetical outcomes, you can miss out on some of the wonderful things going on in your life right now.
What is Mindfulness?
With all of the constant distractions around you, mindfulness can be an important tool to ground you and remind you what is important in your life. Mindfulness has been described as a state of being or quality in which you are fully present in the moment, focused on what you feel and what you’re experiencing. When mindfulness is practiced, you are dismissing outside distractions such as negative thoughts, future plans, and problems that have occurred.
Living in the Present
Mindfulness focuses on bringing your attention away from outside distractions and focusing on the present. Too often, you can become overwhelmed by stressors, plans, and worries that distract you from the things you are experiencing right now; some people describe these feelings as being on “auto-pilot” or “numb”. Mindfulness reminds you to pay attention to what your mind and body are telling you in-the-moment and find appreciation for the things you are currently experiencing and the people you are sharing those moments with.
Focusing Your Attention
Mindfulness is much easier said than done. It can be hard to shut off your mind from interfering thoughts or concerns. Some people get frustrated when practicing mindfulness because they feel they will never be able to focus their attention without being interrupted. However, mindfulness is not about avoiding distracting thoughts altogether; it is about acknowledging the distraction and dismissing it to re-engage with the world around you. The power of mindfulness is in your ability to recognize these disruptive thoughts and bring your focus back to the present.
Mindfulness as a Coping Skill
There has been research in the social sciences and psychology looking at the benefits of mindfulness. It has been found to reduce stress, improve symptoms of anxiety, and help those with depression. Many people practice mindfulness to help them improve their mood and decrease worry if they begin to feel overwhelmed or out of touch with what is going on around them. It can be used routinely to help you improve your overall thought processes, but it can also be used in acute moments of anxiety to overcome a stressor.
Mindfulness takes practice in order to improve your focus and begin to change the way you see the world around you. But, you may be surprised to find the concept is not as foreign as you think.
You’re Probably Already Doing It
Mindfulness is not only about meditation or an overhaul of the way you think. Sometimes it is found in small things you do to relax or show appreciation. Do you ever find yourself closing your eyes and taking a deep breath in moments of stress? This simple act is a practice of mindfulness. You likely practice mindfulness throughout your work week and time at home. Taking a moment to show gratitude for an act of kindness or recognize someone’s abilities can also be a form of mindfulness.
While you are probably practicing mindfulness without knowing it, choosing to be intentional about practicing this quality can benefit you in many ways. Making mindfulness a more natural process for you takes practice. It is challenging to let go of worries and negative thoughts, and it can be easy to disengage yourself from the world when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Make the choice to practice mindfulness and work it into your daily routine to help you feel invested in the present.
Mindfulness practice can be flexible to your daily life. While there are formal exercises to practice and improve mindfulness, there are also smaller gestures you can make each day to incorporate mindfulness. Taking mental “time-outs” or breaks to focus on breathing, walking, where you are going, who you are with, and how you are feeling can help center your thoughts and relax your mind. Choosing to implement this practice each day will not only improve your ability to be mindful but will also make this way of thinking more natural in your daily life.
Other Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness can be practiced and achieved through more formal forms of practice, in addition to the simpler methods mentioned above.
Mindfulness meditation is the most commonly thought of practice. While there are variations to meditation, the purpose of this exercise is to focus on your breathing and the way you are currently feeling. For most mindfulness meditation sessions, a leader will encourage you to close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and recognize what your body is telling you. They may ask you to concentrate on a certain word or image, but the goal is to improve your ability to recognize disruptive thoughts and refocus your mind on the word, image, or breathing.
Sometimes your well-being and emotional health can take a backseat to other stressors in your life. Practicing emotional check-ins reminds you to prioritize the way you are feeling and how that is impacting your energy and mood. In this practice, you should acknowledge your emotions without any judgment. You might be instructed to “name” these feelings in your head or out loud as they emerge. Mindfulness reminds you to remove negative thoughts and recognize your feelings for what they are in order to help you stay in touch with the present.
Mindful breathing is a practice of using your breathing pattern to focus your energy and attention on the present. When you are truly focused on your breath in and breath out, you cannot think about other worries or stressful problems. Instead, continue to practice refocusing your thoughts on each breath. Some practices may have you try to “visualize” your breath as it enters and exits your body. In simpler practice, just closing your eyes and taking deep, intentional breaths can calm your nerves and help you feel better.
Mindfulness may seem like an abstract or unobtainable quality for some, but it is a natural coping strategy that can help improve mood and attitude. While mindfulness takes intentional thought processes and practice, it can be applied as simple gestures you make throughout your day to reduce negative thoughts and concerns. Mindfulness practices are available in group settings, but there are also many resources available online to help you start practicing this strategy today.