According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), mindfulness can tremendously benefit your mental and physical health. It’s been shown to help lower anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, and even manage chronic pain. But what exactly is mindfulness, and how can you incorporate mindfulness exercises into everyday life? Let’s take a deeper look.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is based in Buddhist meditation practices, but you don’t have to do any formal meditation to gain its benefits (although you certainly can if you want). Instead, mindfulness means turning your thoughts and attention to the present moment. Rather than ruminating on things that have already happened or worrying about what might occur in the future, mindfulness brings you back to the here and now.
A key component of mindfulness is learning to allow your thoughts and feelings to exist. No more chasing them down a rabbit hole of fear or regret. Instead, you’ll observe them without judgment, note their existence, and let them go.
Mindfulness can also help you become more intentional with your choices and behaviors. Paying attention to what’s happening right now helps you align with your body and mind. For example, you might find that a certain type of physical exercise makes you feel really good. And those positive feelings may induce you to do that exercise again.
What are some mindfulness exercises to use throughout the day?
If you have a busy life, you might have trouble carving out time each day for a full meditation session. Or maybe you don’t enjoy meditating. Fortunately, mindfulness is easy to incorporate into even the busiest day because you can do it while doing regular tasks. Here are a few strategies.
Make mornings count
Mornings are extremely stressful for many people. Getting up with an alarm, packing lunches, and rushing to get yourself and your family out the door on time can set the stage for a difficult day. Instead, try carving out a few minutes for self-care.
Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier. Then, spend that time positively connecting with yourself. Write in a journal. Take a quick walk. Or sit on the edge of your bed and gently stretch your muscles. Whatever your chosen activity, give it your full attention. If your mind starts to wander, acknowledge your thoughts and then return your focus to what you are doing.
Pay attention to your senses
As you move through the day, turn your attention away from your thoughts by focusing on your five senses. What does your shampoo smell like? How many different flavors can you identify in your lunch? How does the floor of your office building feel under your feet? Did the neighbors plant flowers or buy a new car? No matter what you’re doing or how mundane it is, there are always new sensations to explore.
Use breathing exercises
Purposeful breathing is one of the most useful mindfulness exercises as its allows you to bring yourself back to the moment that is unfolding, no matter where you are or how you are feeling. You can find many different breathing techniques online, and one or more might click for you. But you can also choose to focus on the natural rhythms of your breath. Focus on your breathing whenever you start to experience intrusive thoughts or negative feelings. It’s an easy way to practice mindfulness anywhere, from a crowded amusement park to a never-ending line at the DMV.
Take a time-out
It can be challenging for even the most seasoned mindfulness practitioners to remain mindful during highly stressful situations. The best course of action is to take a time out as soon as possible. Remove yourself from the situation, and then take the opportunity to do a short mindfulness session.
If you are good at meditation, it can be extremely helpful. But if not, don’t worry! You can use simple grounding techniques to reduce stress and return to mindfulness.
For example, the 5-4-3-2-1 technique is easy to remember even when overwhelmed. Simply name:
- 5 things you can see. Small details are especially good here, such as the pattern a light makes on the ceiling.
- 4 things you can feel. This could include things like the sensation of sunlight on your skin, or you could pick up an object and focus on its shape and texture.
- 3 things you can hear. Search for sounds you usually tune out, such as a distant train whistle or the television in another room.
- 2 things you can smell. Is someone burning a candle nearby? Can you catch the scent of perfume wafting through the air?
- 1 thing you can taste. If you have candy or gum, pop it in your mouth and focus on the flavor. If not, drink water and pay attention to the cooling sensations.
Before you know it, your attention will be drawn back to the present moment, and it will be much easier to deal with the situation at hand calmly.
Make it a game
There’s a reason that gamification has become popular for everything from work training sessions to psychotherapy. Playing games helps you connect with your inner child, reduces stress, and injects fun into your life. So, don’t think of mindfulness exercises as a chore or something else to add to your to-do list. Instead, take the opportunity to play a game.
Go outside and look for pictures in the clouds. Turn up the music and challenge your kids to a dance-off. Dig through your change jar and see how many coins you can find from a specific year. Or sit down and play an actual game—either a video game or an old-fashioned board game. The goal is to do something that’s both fun and engaging. After all, it’s pretty tough to keep dwelling on that argument with your boss if you’re too busy trying to conquer the world!
Ultimately, mindfulness is simply a practice. And like any practice, the more you do it, the easier it will become. Over time, you will find the unique techniques that work best for you.