These days everyone is talking about mindfulness. So, first off, what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.“ Why is this important, and how can it help you? It’s important because by staying focused in the present you can decrease anxiety, increase your happiness, and help you pay better attention to what you are doing in your daily life.
There are many ways to engage in mindfulness, and not all of them include meditation. Let’s look at some of these helpful ways to be start being more mindful.
- Meditation – Yes, this is one of the ways to increase your mindfulness. It’s always best to start with just a few minutes in the beginning so as to not set yourself up for failure. Can meditation be challenging at first? Sure it can. The reason for this is because when you’re fully trying to pay attention in the moment, your mind will tend to wander. The good news is that is NORMAL! But, by doing this every day for just 3-5 minutes, you will soon begin to increase your time and find that you’re able to clear your mind with more ease. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean that your mind will never wander, because it will, but it will be more natural for you to bring your mind back to the present moment.
- Walking – Take a mindful walk. In order to make your walk a mindful walk, there are a few things you can do. You can pay attention to your feet and the steps you’re taking. Gently notice as you touch your heel and then toe to the ground. Continue to do this with each step. Many people find this very calming. You can also pay attention to your strides. Count your strides as you’re walking. I’m sure there are other ways you can pay attention in the moment while you’re walking. Do you have any other ideas? I’d love to hear them!
- Eating – Did you know that there is such a thing as mindful eating? There sure is! When you take a bite of your food pay attention to the texture, smell, taste of your food. You can also pay attention to how many times you chew your food. When I was growing up, my dad always told me to chew my food 32 times. Well, this is actually how you can mindfully eat and help with your digestion!
- Disconnect – Turn off all electronics for a period of time that you decide upon beforehand. In today’s world everyone is always tuned in to something. By turning off all electronics, you are able to focus on what’s going on around you without being distracted by text messages, Facebook notifications, phones ringing, and much more. It might be hard to do at first, as we are always so used to “being on”. Trust me, once you get past the first few minutes I think you’ll be surprised at how peaceful you may feel.
- Music – So I know I just told you that disconnecting is good. Well, it is, and at the same time there are other moments that you may want to unwind by listening to music. Sometimes listening to music just is another way for your mind to lose the chatter of what’s going on in your mind at the time. The type of music will vary for each person, but it’s the concept of the music itself that can help you let that chatter go.
- Stretch – This is often good first thing in the morning, and then again in mid-afternoon to help you get your body moving and feeling better. In the morning, get on the floor and while you’re stretching pay attention to where you’re feeling the stretch and how your body is feeling with each movement. In the afternoon when you can have that sleepy feeling come over you, wake up your mind and body by doing a few stretches. If you can’t get on the floor, you can do it standing up or even at your desk in your chair. You will notice a renewed freshness and feeling alert.
- Get fresh air – If you don’t have time for a walk, maybe just step outside for a few minutes. Take in a few deep breaths. The fresh air will wake up your senses from the change of being inside. It will allow you enough time to feel refreshed and ready to get back to your task at hand.
- Drink a glass of cold water – Not only is drinking water important in our daily lives for our health, but it is another way to be mindful. Notice how the water feels when it goes down your throat. Pay attention to the taste of the water. The taste of water? Yes, believe it or not, many people can tell the difference between different types of bottled and tap water. Lastly, pay attention to how it makes you feel when you’re drinking it.
- Count your breaths – This is a form of meditation, and definitely helps you pay attention in the moment. Try counting to 10, with each breath being one count. When your mind wanders away, re-focus your attention, and start back at one. It’s fairly common for most people to be challenged in reaching 10, and that’s the beauty of being able to start over at one.
Be mindful during daily living activities – While you’re brushing your teeth, pay attention to how your toothpaste tastes. How do the bristles on your toothbrush feel? What about how your bristles are touching your teeth. It’s something that you do anyhow, so why not make it a mindful activity. You can do the same with taking a shower. Feel how the water is when it runs down your body. Are the jets from the shower head trickling down, streaming evenly, or jetting out hard against your skin? What about washing your hands? Does the soap have a scent to it? Notice the lather as you are rubbing your hands together. Feel how the temperature of the water feels on your skin.
These are just some of the ways to be mindful every day. There are so many more ways to include mindfulness in your daily life. If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness and how to include it in your daily life, or how I use it in my therapy practice to help people with depression and anxiety, please contact me.
Norine Vander Hooven is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 30 years experience working with youth, adolescents, young adults, adults, and families. Norine is currently in Private Practice in Westlake Village, California. Norine specializes in working with people who experience depression, anxiety, life transitions, and suicidal thoughts.