The term “mindfulness” has become a bit of a buzzword as of late. But what, exactly, is mindfulness, and why has it caused so much hype?
Mindfulness refers to possessing the ability to exist in the present moment and developing awareness of what is now, not what happened yesterday or what may happen tomorrow. Mindfulness involves refraining from judging thoughts and feelings as either good or bad. Practicing mindfulness calms the mind and soothes the soul and may help alleviate symptoms in people suffering from mental disorders.
Mindfulness and Mental Health
Multiple studies indicate that mindfulness training complements traditional treatments for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety . When combined with medication and talk therapy, mindfulness teaches those struggling with mental illness to identify and accept their feelings.
Often those suffering from depression or anxiety tend to ruminate, running past arguments and frustrations over and over in their heads and questioning what they could have done differently. As we can’t change the past, practicing mindfulness helps to break the cycle of overthinking and rehashing prior events.
Likewise, practicing mindfulness helps alleviate the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Those suffering from OCD live their mental lives anywhere but in the present moment. Mindfulness training helps bring their focus back to the task at hand .
Mindfulness assists people in managing negative feelings such as anger or fear. One study required participants to reflect upon the last time they felt angry. Those who never received mindfulness training responded physiologically to the angry emotion with racing hearts and flushed skin. Those trained in mindfulness showed little to no change in heart rate or blood pressure .
How to Incorporate Mindfulness into Everyday Life
Mindfulness benefits everyone regardless of whether they suffer from mental illness. How can people practice mindfulness in their day-to-day lives?
One method for increasing mindfulness includes taking physical exercise. Most people associate mindfulness with regular yoga practice, and the two do fit together like macaroni and cheese. However, other physical activities, such as running or speed-walking, also help focus awareness on the present moment. Many distance runners report getting in the zone after the first mile or two as they experience the Zen-like appeal of the rhythm of their breath and feet .
When the workday grows too hectic, incorporating mindfulness exercises anyone can perform at their desks helps to calm racing thoughts and improve focus. Practice the body scan technique to recenter yourself on frenetic days. Simply sit comfortably in your chair and begin focusing your awareness on your breath. Then sit back and check in with how your whole body feels, moving from the top of your head down to the tip of your toes.
Begin each day with a mindfulness practice before crawling out of bed. Lie comfortably on your back, focusing on your breath and the way your body feels. Look at your thoughts and emotions with the eye of an impartial observer and accept them whether they are positive or negative.
Exercise gratitude throughout your day. Whenever your thoughts turn negative, balance your emotions by recalling one thing you feel grateful for at that moment. Practice gratitude for the little things such as having nourishing food to eat and comfortable clothes to wear.
Use mindfulness to build resilience and aid recovery from setbacks. Practitioners of Japanese Morita therapy believe suffering occurs when present situations stray from our ideal of how things should be . Focusing awareness simply on what actually is, helps in determining the next best step to take.
Recommended Readings on Mindfulness
I knew nothing of mindfulness at one time, but because I love to read, I quickly collected a small library of literature on meditative techniques. I highly recommend the following texts for getting started on your own mindfulness journey.
“Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn focuses on creating a sense of inner harmony not only during meditation but throughout everyday life. Each chapter describes techniques for practicing mindfulness even when faced with difficulty.
Those following the Christian faith can find mindfulness tips treated as Christ-like behaviors in Laurie Beth Jones’ “Jesus in Blue Jeans.” Those who prefer eastern meditative practices should seek out “The Way Is Within” by Ron W. Rathbun. The text follows the author’s journey of rising out of bleakness and despair through meditation.
Finally, those with artistic leanings or just those who find coloring relaxing should check out “Moments of Mindfulness: Anti-Stress Coloring & Activities for Busy People” by Emma Farrarons. I like to keep my copy in my work drawer along with some colored pencils to draw myself back to a peaceful mental state in the midst of chaotic days.
Mindfulness offers a healthy way of life as well as temporary stress relief. Checking in with yourself regularly and centering your focus on the present moment helps banish negative thoughts, whether or not those thoughts stem from mental disorders or just daily stress. Practicing mindfulness in all situations leads to a happier and more positive life.
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