Mindfulness is known as the psychological state of awareness, the practices that promote awareness, and a mode of processing information. In simpler terms, mindfulness is about being fully present and aware of our surroundings in the current moment. It means having a moment-to-moment awareness of your experiences without judgment.
Right now, it is easy to let our thoughts wander, spending too much time planning, problem-solving, or day-dreaming. This can lead to obsessive or negative thoughts that ultimately cause anxiety or depression. Practicing mindfulness allows us to return to the present moment, focus our thoughts, and ultimately let go of negative thoughts and emotions.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is not a special or obscure trait that only certain people contain. In fact, mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses and can work to strengthen. Whether or not it is familiar to you, practicing mindfulness is something that anyone can do, and has great advantages. Here are just some of the ways mindfulness can benefit you:
Reduced stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is considered a key element to fighting stress. Studies have shown that increased mindfulness improves areas like emotional reactivity, relationship skills, sleeping patterns, and other factors that directly affect stress and anxiety.
Heightened focus. Mindfulness allows us to better filter thoughts, which can affect our ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information.
Improved coping skills. Practicing mindfulness strengthens techniques that allow us to deal with tumultuous times. Now more than ever it is important to hone in on our coping skills.
Applying Mindfulness to Everyday Life
It helps to view mindfulness as a way of living rather than a practice that requires intensive focus or motivation. There are several disciplines and practices to cultivate and strengthen mindfulness, but simple changes to your lifestyle can help you enhance your mindfulness. Here are some strategies and tips from the Jefferson Center Colorado Spirit team to help apply mindfulness to your everyday life.
- Mindful Sleeping
For many, COVID-19 has impacted our regular sleeping patterns. Between increased levels of stress and the shift to stay-at-home orders, people are finding it harder and harder to turn off their brains at the end of the day for a good night’s rest.
By practicing mindfulness you can set the stage for sleep by allowing you to be more aware of your thoughts, let go of anxieties rather than get stuck on them, and ultimately quiet the brain for a deeper sleep. Here are just a handful of ways to wind down before sleep:
Turn of your devices. It is easy to find ourselves doom scrolling on our phones at the end of the night, but electronic devices have been proven to disrupt sleeping patterns. Our screens emit blue light, which affects our brains by increasing alertness and reducing levels of sleep-inducing chemicals like melatonin. Consider putting your phone, tablet, or television away an hour before you decide to go to bed.
Don’t force it. “Fake it until you make it” applies to sleep, too. The pressure of trying to fall asleep could have an adverse effect and heighten feelings of stress. By practicing mindfulness and embracing the moment, sleep will usually come naturally.
Try a mindfulness body scan. Body scans are effective mindfulness meditations for sleep. Start by noticing sensations in your body and your breathing. When your attention wanders, see if you can just take note of that and gently center your thoughts. When we allow ourselves to be with what’s here, the body naturally goes to rest, which is what it wants to do.
Journaling can oftentimes feel like an abstract or daunting task, but even the most disorganized piece of writing has structure, which can help us organize our thoughts and feelings. Writing on its own is a meditative practice that allows us to process our thoughts, understand our emotions, and become more mindful. Here are some ways to be a mindful writer:
Let go of judgment. As you write you’re engaging in the act of thinking, acknowledging, and moving forward. This happens so quickly that you might think you’re not doing anything while writing. Some folks have so many thoughts while writing that they have a hard time distinguishing what is “good enough” to write down, so they quickly dismiss those thoughts and move on. Try to let go of the judgement that your thought isn’t “good enough” and either write or move on.
Let go of perfectionism. Let go of the idea of the perfect sentence or the perfect journal entry. Even let go of the focus on your handwriting and spelling. It’s okay to have awkward grammar and to start a sentence without finishing it. If you have a thought that you want to go back to, you can block off space for the rest of the sentence and move on. The important thing is that you are being present with your current writing.
Acknowledge barriers. There are other barriers to writing other than anxiety. There are physical barriers including dexterity issues or not having enough energy to sit down and write. For those who have trouble with the physical act of writing you can try using an audio memo with your phone or other recording device. The act of writing can be reframed to incorporate the various ways you expel your thoughts and emotions.
Mindful eating is a technique that helps you gain control over your eating habits. Food is both a means to fuel us and a source of comfort, and ultimately affects the way we feel. Fostering a healthy and mindful relationship with food is extremely important. Here are some tips for mindful eating.
Slow down. It takes 15 minutes for your food to reach the stomach and for the brain to send a signal that it is sufficiently full. Put your fork & knife down between bites. Sip and savior your drink, don’t gulp. Lastly, make sure you’re sufficiently and fully chewing your food before you swallow!
Focus on your 5 senses as you eat.
- What you taste
- What you smell
- What you see
- What you feel & the various sensations in your mouth as you eat
- What you hear (i.e. noises as you drink or environmental sounds)
Don’t multitask. Always sit at the table (or your designated eating area), avoid screen times, and put work aside while you eat. We too often find ourselves distracted while we eat, which can lead to eating too fast or overeating.
Be grateful & honor your meal. Take a moment to be thankful for the food you have in front of you.
The Mindful Outdoors
Mindfulness in the outdoors has been proven to lift our moods and reduce stress. It can ease depression, boost our immune system, lower blood pressure, improve concentration, and improve sleep quality. With our constant use of technology and shift in society we have become more disconnected with nature, but that doesn’t change the fact that humans rely on the natural world.
It is important to make the most of the outdoors during this time and be mindful of our relationship with nature. Here are a few helpful tips:
Set aside time to go outside. Even if it is 5-10 minutes each day, setting intentional time each day to go outside can have great affects on your mood and ability to focus. It will also help you remain mindful of how you are spending your time on a day to day basis.
Find what you love outdoors. Whether it is cloud watching, gardening, or simply walking around, find what it is you love to do in nature.
Take and indoor activity to the outdoors. Taking meals outside or calling friends and family on a walk are great ways to take indoor activities outside. This helps keep us grounded and keep us connected to nature in a mindful and unique way.
Ultimately, mindfulness is about staying in the present moment while focusing on the world around you while simultaneously accepting your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As long as you keep that in mind you can practice mindfulness in any way that makes sense to your own routine or lifestyle.
Remember, Jefferson Center’s Colorado Spirit team is here for you. Offering free and confidential support around COVID-19, we can help you with counseling tips and strategies to cope successfully and referrals to additional mental health resources. Call us if you need to talk at 720-731-4689.
If you or someone you know is in a crisis, please call 1-844-493-8255 or visit our 24/7 crisis walk-in center at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.