What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In simple terms, it’s living in the moment and being fully present and aware; both of your own thoughts and your surroundings. Mindfulness has proven to be successful at reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, personality disorders, bipolar disorder and addiction and is incorporated into the treatment programs at Silver Hill. In fact, research out of Oxford University has shown mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is just as effective as antidepressants when it comes to preventing depression relapse for some people.
When you practice mindfulness, you begin to understand how your mind works. You are able to identify problematic thought patterns and start retraining your brain to respond differently. For example, a person with depression has a lot of negative self-talk running through their head; “I’m a failure,” “I’ll never get better,” “I’m a burden.” When a person engages in those thoughts, they begin to ruminate and spiral deeper and deeper into depression. When a person is being mindful, they acknowledge the negative thought that arises, but they don’t engage in further thinking. They remind themselves that the thought is not reality do not criticize themselves for having the thought or emotion. Over time and with practice, it becomes easier to release and redirect the negative thoughts, and identify shifts in moods and/or thought patterns sooner. By being more aware, people can seek help before symptoms get out of hand.
Mindfulness in Everyday Life
When you say the word mindfulness, images of people sitting by the water with their eyes closed, cross-legged, and meditating probably come to mind. While meditation is a part of a mindfulness practice, it’s important to learn how to incorporate mindfulness into all aspects of daily life, since we function on autopilot much of the time. Remember, mindfulness isn’t the absence of thoughts; it’s acknowledging and releasing, without judging yourself.
Although it’s great to spend 20 minutes a day meditating or doing breathing exercises, you can start by being mindful for five minutes multiple times throughout the day and being more aware of each moment throughout your day. Here are some easy ways you can begin to be more mindful.
Take a Walk
Not only is going for a walk good exercise, but it’s good for your mental health. Walk with the intention of noticing your environment; look at the colors, listen to the sounds, take note of anything beautiful around you. If something catches your eye, slow down and take a closer look. Maybe even say hello to a stranger. Notice makes you feel good and think of how can you incorporate that into your life?
When someone is talking to you, are you actively listening or are you deep in your own thoughts and just nodding along? When you listen to a song, is it just background noise or are you aware of the lyrics and instruments? Try being fully present during conversations and take a moment to notice the sounds in your environment. How do they make you feel? Do certain sounds invoke a positive or negative response?
Instead of inhaling your meal, take the time to actually taste your food. Notice the flavor and texture; savor the food. When you slow down, not only will you enjoy your meal and overall experience more, you will be healthier and slimmer. Fast, mindless eating is the quickest way to pack on the pounds. You don’t even realize how much you are eating when you just shovel it in.
When you are engaged in a creative activity, whether it’s painting, photography, music or writing, your mind is fully focused on the task at hand. Your thoughts may wander at times, but it’s easier to come back to the present moment when you are being creative.
Put Your Phone Down
Nowadays, when you walk down the street, almost everyone is looking at their phones. Remember before phones, when we actually noticed the world around us and acknowledged other people’s presence? Now it’s not uncommon to see two people on a date and looking at their phone more than they’re talking. There’s a time and a place for technology. Take a break and be fully present, especially when you are visiting with family and friends. You’re not fully experiencing life otherwise.
We live in a culture where the ability to multitask is viewed as a positive attribute. However, research proves our brains aren’t wired for it and it actually decreases productivity. How many tabs do you have open in your browser right now? Probably more than one! When you are trying to do five things at once, you aren’t giving each task the full attention it deserves because your mind is wandering on to the next thing. Focus on one task at a time, take a break and then start the next. You’ll do a better job and have a fighting chance of remember what you were just doing!
Reframe Daily Annoyances
What is something you hate? Waiting is probably at the top of your list. Notice the thoughts going through your mind and how your body is responding. When you’re stuck in traffic, there is nothing you can do except control your reaction. Getting agitated is only going to create more negativity in your mind and distress in your body. Instead of feeding into a thought cycle like, “this traffic isn’t moving. I’m going to be late. I’m going to miss a meeting and then I’m going to get fired,” reframe the situation. Acknowledge that it’s frustrating, but use the time to take a break. Listen to your favorite songs or notice the trees blooming. If you’re outside, breathe in the fresh air. Chances are, the worst-case scenario you built in your head will not come true.
The main take-away is, start experiencing life more every day. Be more aware and fully present in each moment. These small steps help you become more mindful, making it easier to recognize negative patterns that are negatively affecting your mental health. Remember, mindfulness may not be a replacement for medication or therapy, especially in severe mental illnesses or addictions, but it is a good compliment to treatment.
Here are a few resources that provide more information on mindfulness.
- “Mindfulness Practices May help Treat Many Mental Health Conditions” – American Psychiatric Association
- “Preventing Recurrence of Depression with Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy” – American Psychiatric Association
- “How Does Mindfulness Reduce Depression? An Interview with John Teasdale, Ph.D.” – PsychCentral
- An Overview of Mindfulness Techniques – Psychology Today