The Lazy Girl's Guide to Practicing Mindfulness
Now that self-love wellness, and mental health are (finally) getting recognition in today’s culture, mindfulness is an initiative that is surfacing as a self-care practice. While mindfulness is something that isn’t new (it goes back to ancient Buddhist beginnings), I feel that I haven’t had much exposure to it until recently. As a mental health professional, I am regularly introducing and reinforcing mindfulness strategies to my clients, particularly the ones who experience and exhibit anxiety. Now, I work with children and adolescents, so explaining what mindfulness is to a seven or twelve year old takes some creativity. That being said, it also makes it easy for me to explain to YOU!
So, let’s get into the details. Mindfulness, quite simply, is a process of bringing your awareness to the present moment, which I like to call the “here and now.” So, instead of thinking about something that happened in the past (e.g. you said something really stupid at work and felt embarrassed), or thinking about something that will happen in the future (e.g. you have a first date tonight and are pretty nervous), you focus ONLY on how you are feeling right here, right now, in this moment. By channeling your awareness to the here and now, your mind and body become more in sync.
The benefits of mindfulness are both mental and physical, both immediately (for all you instant gratification seekers), and long-term. Practicing mindfulness can decrease stress and anxiety, boost your immune system, improve your relationships with others, improve your self-talk habits, help you see the positive, help you sleep longer and better (dat sleep hygiene tho), et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. If you are still feeling unconvinced and need more information and empirical research on how mindfulness works, a quick Google search will overwhelm you with data. Because I’m a nice person and want to make things as easy for you as possible, I’m including some links below for all your skeptical minds.
For the scholar: What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness? A Practice Review of Psychotherapy-Related Research, a research-based article featured by the American Psychological Association
For the working gal: 6 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Mindfulness And Meditation, an article featured on Forbes
For the fitness junkie: What Meditation Can—and Can’t—Do for Your Health, an article featured on Self
For the book babe: The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh (this dude is a Vietnamese monk!)
Now that' I’ve probably overwhelmed you with information on mindfulness, you might be thinking, “Tina, how in the heck am I supposed to incorporate this into my busy life???” Well, lucky for you, I am someone who believes in making everything as easy and simple as possible, and remove all the unnecessities so I can focus on the bare essentials. Here are some tiny changes you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle to improve your mental health:
Set aside five minutes or less every day to do a quick meditation on an app. There are TONS of apps out there (which can be overwhelming to a mindfulness noob like yourself), so here are a few I recommend: Headspace, Stop, Breathe, & Think, and Insight Timer.
Every night before bed, write down ONE thing you are grateful for that happened that day. There are apps where you can do this (i.e. Grateful or Happyfeed) and you can even include a picture if you don’t feel like writing. Another option is to buy a journal—either one designated as a gratitude journal (I have this one), or just a regular, blank journal (here’s a cute one with a bunch of cacti)—and some cute pens.
Stop and think before responding. If you remember from my last post about how I decreased my anxiety last year, I practiced saying “No” to things I didn’t want to do. This is mindfulness! Take a minute to assess if it’s REALLY an happy hour you want to go to, or if it’s REALLY a project you want to volunteer your time on at work. Listen to yourself and pay attention to your mood and how your body responds (does thinking about it make your mood decrease and your stomach tighten? Then it’s probably a “no” from you)
Go outside and look at plants. Bonus points if you decide to go for a walk. Double bonus points if you leave your phone inside. Unplug just for a second and bring your awareness to nature, which has all sorts of benefits for your mental and physical health as well.
Practice belly breathing. Belly breathing is when you inhale and fill your stomach with air, instead of filling your chest. This promotes deeper breaths, which leads to more oxygen for your blood cells, which leads to an overall better feeling. An easy way to practice this is to place your hand on your belly and inhale, pushing your abdomen into your hand. I do this whenever I start feeling anxious or nervous or worried, because by habit, I start taking shorter breaths that end up INCREASING my anxiety. If this is too much for you, just simply be aware of how you are breathing.
Pay attention to what you’re eating. If my brief stint following Whole 30 taught me anything, it’s to be more mindful of what I’m putting into my body. We are all guilty of being mindless eaters, eating whatever is in front of us or eating as quickly as possible without thinking twice. Take a moment to taste your food (think, “what flavors can I taste?” or “Do I even like this?”), and slow down your rate of consumption (chew your food, and take at least 15-20 minutes to eat a meal).
Print a color photo of a travel destination you have or haven’t been, and tape it somewhere near your desk or workspace. Whenever your eyes wander over to this picture, take a minute to breathe and feel relaxed as you think about this happy place. For me, this photo (see below) is sitting on the docks of Caye Caulker, Belize, watching the sunrise.
What are some other creative ways you can fit mindfulness into your lifestyle? Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, lengthy, or complicated—mindfulness can simply be thinking about what’s happening in the here and now. Comment below with your ideas!
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