Mindfulness has become quite the buzzword in recent years. But it’s not all just buzz — there’s substantial research now that supports the health benefits of mindful activities.
According to Psychology Today, “[M]indfulness is an incredible tool to help people understand, tolerate, and deal with their emotions in healthy ways. It helps us to alter our habitual responses by taking pause and choosing how we act.”
Whenever you feel the cycle of negative emotions begin to take over your well-being, try some of these methods to disrupt that cycle and bring mindfulness into your daily life.
So maybe (hopefully) you’re doing this already, but try doing it with intention. Focus on the quality of your breathing — give a count to each inhale and exhale. When I’m feeling stress or anxiety, I like to take a few minutes to change my breathing: I count slowly to four on my inhale, hold for a second at the top of my breath, and then count to five on my exhale, thinking consciously about ridding any negativity within me on that extended exhale. Many different breathing techniques exist to serve different purposes; trying them out certainly won’t hurt you and likely will bring focus to this otherwise automatic function of the body, which in turn can help recenter you and calm your mind.
Writing is a great way to experience your thoughts in the present moment. Good, old-fashioned diary or journal writing is one example of mindful writing, and so is the more tech-advanced blogging. Putting your thoughts in writing allows you to observe, without judgment, the goings-on in your head and gives your thoughts a place to exist, which clears some space in your busy mind. Don’t make any rules; just try to write freely.
3. Listen to Music
But really listen to it; not in the background, not when you’re working, cooking, or cleaning. Carve out a little bit of time to just listen. Even close your eyes. Try to identify the different elements of a song or piece of music you love — the instrumentation, the lyrics, the patterns — and think about how those elements come together to create the sounds that bring you joy.
4. Move Your Body
This can be as simple as adjusting your posture at work to practicing yoga at a studio. A guided yoga class is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness, as a trained instructor will not only talk you through the postures, which causes you to focus on each movement, but also will explain what each pose does for the body, which allows you to have a deeper connection with your body. But if getting to a studio class is not always feasible for you, instead take a moment to mentally scan your body and discover what’s going on and where. See if stretching or moving around brings feelings of relief or invigoration to stressed-out areas.
5. Observe Nature
Spending time outside in our natural environment is one of the most grounding activities we can do. All of the elements in nature — animals, trees and plants, water, sun and moon — have their inherent cycles that go on each day regardless of worry, illness, and fear, the very things that tend to stop us in our tracks and immobilize us from moving forward. Taking note of the natural world through its sights, sounds, smells, and touch or feelings can give us a greater appreciation for nature while also connecting us to it.
6. Eliminate Distractions
Too often we get into the habit of starting our day by powering up electronic devices, lights, appliances, etc. All of this constant buzz creates white noise that prevents us from being focused on any one thing. Even just having “stuff” lying around, to do at a later time, can cause feelings of stress. So if you find yourself getting overwhelmed by too many “things,” try minimizing your electronic and other media use for a prescribed period of time — even just 10 minutes. (But make sure you finish reading this first!)
7. Create Something
Make a meal, knit a scarf, craft your own greeting cards, or plant a garden. Creating useful things can give you a great sense of purpose when you may be lacking one, and it also keeps your mind focused on a step-by-step task, which places your intentions in the present moment.
8. Narrate Your Actions
But not out loud. And not all the time. Think about the things you do on a daily basis that you usually don’t have to think about doing at all. Getting out of bed, taking a shower, brushing your teeth. Just as an exercise, try narrating, in your head, each of your actions for a specific part of the day. Have fun with it. The purpose is to ground your thoughts in the now and prevent them from getting carried away with the “what if” and “what next” thoughts that tend to overtake our thinking throughout the day.
9. Envision Your Thoughts
Similar to narrating your actions, listening to your thoughts is a practice that can be done completely in your head. It does require some quiet time in which you can close your eyes and just try to watch your thoughts passing by, disconnected from any expectation of outcomes. Good and bad thoughts alike, just let them float in and out of your mind.
Take care of something or someone who needs some nurturing. Showing compassion toward other living things and beings, and investing time in caring for them, allows us the opportunity to step away from our own turbulent lives and see the needs of others, right now.
When we take time to pay closer attention to our thoughts and daily actions, we often better our understanding of emotions and accept them for what they are. In so doing, we become less reactive to negative emotions and more compassionate toward ourselves, which then spreads to others. If we all incorporate a little bit of mindfulness into our lives each day, we just might make the world a more tolerable place to be.
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