I’m an anxious person, and have been most of my life. Later on, I’ll talk about my journey with anxiety and how I’ve managed to beat it, but mindfulness is such a big part of my journey so I wanted to dive deeper into that first.
Mindfulness is being present in the moment. Often life gets us so worked up and it’s hard to focus on the present moment. We’re thinking about what projects are due at work at the end of the week, we’re thinking about what bills need to be paid, and we’re thinking about things around the house that need to be completed. We’re worried about the future all the time. From thinking about how our kids are going to grow up in this world that we live in now to how they will manage and how how they will live fulfilling lives, with all the pressure of being a good parent, spouse, daughter, son, grandson, granddaughter, friend, and neighbor, how do we focus on the present moment?
The answer is mindfulness. It’s so important that we take time for us and take part in self-care as often as we can. Mindfulness is one way to do this. It has helped me ground myself and calm myself down so many times I can’t even count. I try to make it part of my daily routine now and I’ve found that it keeps my anxiety at bay.
Mindfulness takes practice. You won’t be a pro at it overnight, and you may not ever be able to be fully aware of the present moment. Our minds will naturally drift into anxious thoughts and worries, but being mindful is the ability to bring your mind back to the present moment. Acknowledge the thoughts as they come in your mind, but watch them pass like clouds floating by as you bring yourself back to the present moment.
Mindfulness doesn’t mean you have to change as a person. As humans, focusing on the present is something we do innately all the time. If you weren’t focusing on the present, you wouldn’t be able to drive a car, tie your shoes or cook a meal. Mindfulness takes the innate ability we have to focus on the present and makes you mindful of your thoughts that are causing you angst. By harnessing the power we use every day to be more mindful of what’s going on in the here and now at this very moment, it will calm our brains and keep our thoughts from going into a tailspin.
You don’t have to be some super human creature to participate in mindfulness activities. Anyone can do it. It’s easy to learn and everyone can benefit from it. Once you make it part of your daily routine, it will just become a way of living and won’t seem like something extra to squeeze into your schedule. Research has shown that mindfulness has such a positive effect on us as humans and it benefits our health, relationships, stress level, anxiety and even our work! I’ve had my clients practice mindfulness and they have all agreed that it has helped them manage their lives better.
There are different ways to practice mindfulness, but here are my favorites.
The Calm App and Guided Meditation – This app is free and comes with wonderful visual and audio meditation and mindfulness practices. There are different themes to choose from, and if you upgrade to their paid service, the list of themes gets even longer. This app comes with sleep stories as well, so if your brain starts to go haywire when you lay down to sleep, this app gives you the ability to turn on a sleep story, like a bedtime story for adults, which allows you to focus on the present moment by paying attention to the story that is being told. With the relaxing nature sounds and guided meditation, you’ll be practicing mindfulness in a way that will lead you to a happier life. You can also find other guided meditation recordings just about anywhere, for free. There are many listed on YouTube, and they are even labeled for certain situations in life. For example, if you are struggling with anxiety and stress, there are specific guided meditation videos and recordings geared toward that. There are guided meditations geared toward success in life. YouTube offers just about anything you can imagine. There are so many that you can try a bunch of them and find one that works best for you. It has definitely helped for me. Check out the Calm app here.
Mindful Eating – I love food! One of my favorite ways to be mindful is paying attention to the moment when I’m eating. I like to take my time eating and really focus on things that bring me into the moment, like the texture of the food, how it smells, and how it tastes. Savor the flavor! Don’t do anything else but sit down to eat. Don’t pick up your cell phone while eating. Turn off the TV. Don’t talk on the phone while eating. Take the time to really enjoy your food.
Observe Your Breathing – Breathing is something we do automatically and oftentimes we don’t think about it. By taking the time to pay attention to our breathing, it will take you out of your head and will place focus on the here and now and on your body. I like to breathe in for four counts, and breathe out for four counts. This practice is especially helpful when my thoughts start to run free.
Mindful Exercise – Exercising is something that will help your mental health; no doubt about it. When you take the time to be mindful while exercising, it will help you even more. When taking a walk outside, I like to practice mindfulness. I’ll pay attention the wind on my face, to what the sky looks like, I’ll describe to myself the leaves on the trees and I’ll pay attention to the steps that I take. When I’m doing more of a cardio or weight lifting routine, I like to pay attention to how my feet feel in my shoes, how my muscles are burning or the rhythm of my breath. Yoga is also a wonderful way to be active and mindful at once. Yoga is my by far my favorite mindful exercise. All of these practices will keep those anxious and worrisome thoughts away.
Pay Attention During Conversation – Often when we’re anxious or worried, we have the tendency to focus mainly on what’s bothering us. When this happens, communication with others can be hard. I learned this while meeting with my clients. As a therapist, I had to be fully present and aware of what was going on and being said in that moment to be able to help my clients. If I was worried or anxious about something, it made it difficult to listen to others talk. If you make a solid effort to focus on the present and listen, really listen, it will keep those anxious thoughts from sneaking back into your mind. Actively listen, asking questions and repeating what the person said.
Body Scanning – In the moments when I’m extra stressed or anxious, I do a body scan. Starting from the tips of my toes and slowly going up to the top of my head, I feel and pay attention to every part of my body. I curl my toes and pay attention to how that feels. I pay attention to how my chest rises with each breath, I pay attention to how my back feels against the chair, and I pay attention to how it feels when I blink. There are recordings of body scans all over the internet for free, especially on YouTube. There are also text versions you can memorize and complete yourself while listening to some calming music.
No matter how stressed out or anxious your mind is, mindfulness is something that can benefit all of us. It has by far helped me to maintain a calmer lifestyle, but for the most part I think it has really helped me to make decisions with a clearer mind. Taking the time to pay attention to the moment and your own body will benefit you in ways you can’t even imagine. Try it today!