What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become an increasingly popular form of self-care and a widely used mental health technique throughout recent years. Because it can be practiced in many different ways, mindfulness has become a flexible option for many people.
Oftentimes, we find ourselves going into our future or past too much. This can lead to feeling drained, anxious, stressed, or the development of mental health distress such as depression. Practicing mindfulness can help direct our attention away from patterns of thinking that lead to these difficult emotions and into a frame of mind that helps us engage with the world around us in the present moment.
Mindfulness helps you bring your focus and awareness to the present moment through different techniques such as focusing on sensations and feelings in the moment without judgement or interpretation. This practice can involve activities such as deep breathing, meditation, guided imagery, or guided body awareness activities like Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR).
Benefits of Mindfulness
Multiple clinical studies have supported the effectiveness of mindfulness activities including decreasing:
- Symptoms of Depression
- High Blood Pressure
- Panic Attacks
Not only has mindfulness been shown to help decrease symptoms stemming from mental health disorders, it has also illustrated efficacy in:
- Improving sleep
- Decreasing feelings of burnout
- Improving attention
- Improving diabetes control
There are countless ways to practice mindfulness on a daily basis. Here are a few mindfulness activities that are relatively common.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
This technique involves focusing on individual muscle groups throughout your body. Within PMR, you focus on slowly tensing individual muscle groups and then relaxing them. This activity helps you connect with your body, understand the difference between what it feels like to be tensed and relaxed, and become aware of physical sensations within your body.
Most PMR activities start with tensing and relaxing the muscles in your head and neck and working your way down to your toes. Try to tense your muscles for about five seconds and then relax for between 15-30 seconds before moving onto the next muscle group.
Breathing activities to practice mindfulness can be done a lot of different ways. The most basic way of doing mindful breathing is to focus your attention on your breath. Take time to focus on your inhale and exhale in order to limit your mind from wandering to other things outside of your breath.
Focusing solely on your breathing can be difficult, especially if it is a new practice. If you want to practice a more structured approach to mindful breathing, short guided breathing exercises are available online for you to follow along with and many don’t take more than 5 minutes.
This technique guides you to form mental images to take a visual journey to a peaceful, calming, or happy place or situation. Visualization usually incorporates many different senses such as smell, sight, sound, and touch within the guided visual journey in order for you to immerse yourself in your vision.
In order to get the most out of this experience, it’s recommended that you sit or lay in a quiet spot, wear loose clothing, and concentrate on your breathing and on the visualization activity.
Take a moment to notice the thoughts about yourself that you are having that are directed to yourself. Are they how you would talk to a best friend or are they a little harsher than you would like them to be? Focus on treating yourself like you would treat a good friend. Would you be more gentle? More Patient? More flexible?
Use this information to practice acceptance and compassion for yourself, your thoughts, and your feelings surrounding how you talk to yourself.
Notice the Present Moment
The inner monologue that many of us have can be difficult to separate from. This technique helps you step away from your thoughts about the past or the future in order to focus on what is happening around you in the present moment.
Start by focusing on your breath and the sensations in your body. Once you start focusing on that, slowly bring your attention to what is happening around you. Notice the sounds, smells, and other sensations and senses that are currently present with you in the room. While some thoughts will come up, try and notice them without judgement and let them pass without inspecting them too closely.
When to Practice Mindfulness
Depending on the mindfulness practice you choose, it is a flexible activity that can be done anywhere and anytime. Exercises like breathing, acceptance training, and noticing the present moment can be done relatively quickly and in any setting. However, research has suggested that doing mindfulness in an outdoor environment is even more effective and beneficial.
Exercises that are a bit more structured such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Guided Meditation require you to set aside time and be in a quiet space free from distractions or interruptions. We recommend trying these types of activities in the morning or before bed in order to get you ready for the day or decompress and get ready for bed.
Mindfulness is something that may take time in order for it to feel effortless. Aim to practice a form of mindfulness everyday for about a month in order for it to become a habit. It may be helpful to think of it as a form of self-care and a way to reconnect with yourself.