In recent years, it seems that everyone’s lives have become fast-paced, repetitive days of stress in all forms (financial, emotional, physical) and have acquired an overwhelming amount of responsibilities. The news can be stifling in their seemingly constant announcements of ongoing adversities. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in all of it and feel overwhelmed.
This is where mindfulness comes in. Although it has been around for centuries in Eastern culture, it has only recently been making its way over into popular Western culture as well. You may already have heard about mindfulness, but may not have fully understood what it is. Or maybe you do understand what it is, but you struggle to see how it would be of any benefit to you.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years. Its lineage is difficult to trace exactly, but it originates from many Eastern cultures’ traditions. Over the last few decades, mindfulness practices have made their way over to the West, being incorporated in positive psychology and being used in treatments such as CT (cognitive therapy), which then developed into MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy). Since these developments, mindfulness has become a popular approach in both clinical and non-clinical practices.
Mindfulness originates from the word “sati” which means having awareness, attention and remembering. There are different ways of defining mindfulness, but when it comes down to it, it is essentially becoming present within ourselves and within the moment and freeing ourselves of any internal distractions, which come primarily from our thoughts. One of the primary ways that this can be trained is through meditation. Meditation is training your brain to be aware of your surroundings and developing a healthy sense of perspective.
Mindfulness is not the act of turning off your thoughts or feelings. It is about acknowledging them and being able to observe them without judgment. This helps you understand them better over time. This is a skill that requires time and practice. Imagine it like a muscle that you need to work out regularly in order to strengthen and maintain it.
Why do we need mindfulness?
We are not present much of the time. Even while we are doing one thing, our mind is usually busy thinking about many other things. During most tasks or events in our lives, we are distracted because of our busy lives and equally busy minds. This can lead to being easily distracted, forgetfulness and making careless mistakes due to not paying enough attention, which can in turn lead to stress and anxiety.
The negative effects of stress. One study has shown that Millennials are the most stressed generation, with Generation Xers coming in second place. Fast-paced lifestyles can become too much for us, weighing us down, and manifesting in unhealthy coping strategies. Excess stress can have extremely harmful consequences on our health. By practicing mindfulness, we can return to experiencing the present moment without being influenced by other thoughts.
Mindfulness helps regulate our emotions; it has been shown that practicing mindfulness regularly helps our brains control and process our emotions better. It has also been found that mindfulness can improve our overall moods and decrease feelings of depression and anxiety.
The benefits of mindfulness
Before we dive into it deeply, here is just an overview of the ways that mindfulness can help you in your everyday life:
- Reduce stress
- Enhance performance
- Help us gain insight
- Awaken the senses
- Help us handle difficult situations better
- Allow us to better pay attention to our own bodies and mind and others’ as well
- Help the body relax
- Improve your mental health
- Enrich your relationships
Mindfulness — especially when combined with meditation — can have different benefits in various aspects of your life. In the workplace, mindfulness can ease stress by regulating emotions and teach you how to handle unpleasant thoughts and situations more easily. It allows for easier and clearer focus and decision-making skills, which in turn enhances productivity. Being mindful also allows for better teamwork by being more positive and more engaging in the workplace.
Too much stress can cause a strain on the body as a result of the surge of stress hormones such as cortisol in the body. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels, by compromising the immune system, making us more susceptible to illnesses, and can even lead to heart attacks. By keeping stress levels down, these hormone levels are also kept at regular levels, which lowers blood pressure and heart rate, which then contributes to better sleep and a stronger immune system.
By practicing mindfulness, we are able to be much more present and engaged in our daily activities. Focusing on the present moment allows us to not get caught up in other worries that we should not focus on at the time. It allows for a deeper connection with those around us by being more present when we are with them. Mindfulness, coupled with meditation, is also a proven method for treating a number of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, or eating disorders, and has been used by psychotherapists for years. This is because it allows patients to gain perspective and become better equipped to deal with irrational, intrusive, and self-defeating thoughts.
How can you implement mindfulness into your everyday life?
Mindfulness does not require you to completely change your entire life. Mindfulness practices can be done while sitting, walking, standing, or lying down. They can also be used while doing activities such as yoga, sports, art-related hobbies; even washing the dishes can be a mindfulness practice activity.
Take a deep breath
Sometimes this is all a person needs to bring them back into the present moment. With so much going on in our day-to-day lives, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Remembering to stop and take a breath every once in a while will help you regain your center and enable you to continue with a clearer mind.
Whether you are on a bus, or the metro, or just walking the dog, mindfulness practices can be applied anywhere. In fact, practicing mindfulness while you wait can be a perfect time to routinely implement it.
Apply it a little throughout the day for the best results
If you take a few moments throughout the day to practice mindfulness, it will be easier to commit to and you will still reap the benefits without having to worry about setting a dedicated chunk of time out of your day for it.
Learn to meditate
Meditation is the best way to learn mindfulness. Being mindful is not a solid end goal; it is something that needs to be continually practiced and developed before you learn to naturally keep it up and apply it in your daily life more seamlessly. Meditation can help you learn how to bring your mind and thoughts back to the present by listening to your body and your surroundings.
Bringing mindfulness into your life does not have to be a major lifestyle change. As shown here, mindfulness can be achieved with a few small steps in your everyday routine, all while having long-lasting benefits.