If you’ve ever searched the internet for ways to reduce stress or anxiety, you’ve probably come across the term mindfulness — or advice on how to be more mindful. But what does that mean — and how does it apply to your life?
According to Mindful.org External Site, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is actually a quality that every human being has — we just have to learn how to tap into it to experience its benefits.
The benefits of mindfulness
Learning how to be more mindful in everyday life comes with several health benefits. Headspace, a mindfulness meditation app External Site, reports people who incorporate mindfulness into their lives are often happier, more patient and accepting, and experience lower levels of stress, frustration, and sadness. Studies show that practicing mindfulness can reduce aggression External Site — and just 10 days of consistent practice reduced stress levels by 14 percent External Site.
According to a Harvard Health article External Site, mindfulness can help treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and lessen gastrointestinal symptoms. It also has a positive impact on your mental health, too. Therapists have recently incorporated mindfulness into treatment plans for depression and anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, and more.
How to be more mindful in everyday life
Unlocking the benefits of mindfulness can take time. Most people set aside time each day to practice mindfulness meditation, which helps them train their brain to be more mindful in real life. But maybe the thought of sitting down for a long period to meditate is overwhelming, and you don’t know where to start. The good news: You don't need to meditate to be more mindful. You can easily be more mindful at any time of the day — here are a few examples External Site adapted from Mindful.org.
Right when you wake up.
If you have a habit of checking your phone or email first thing in the morning, put that off for a few minutes. Sit up in bed or in a chair and relax your body. Take a few deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Then, set your intention for the day — this helps set priorities for anything you need to get done or how you want to feel. Some examples are being kind to yourself and others, nourishing your body with healthy foods, or getting in that workout you’ve been putting off. Then, check in with yourself throughout the day to revisit the intention you set.
During a shower.
Any activity that involves multiple senses is a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Start by bringing your attention to how your body feels. Take multiple deep breaths in and out and notice how they feel. Then, continue with your task or activity with intention, engaging your senses — like how your hair feels when you’re washing it, the smell of your shampoo, the sensation of the water pouring over you. If you notice your mind wandering from the activity, like thinking about everything you need to do that day, gently bring it back to the task at hand without judging your mind for wandering.
While you’re eating.
Eating, like many other daily activities, often happens on autopilot when you’re thinking about something else (looking at you, sad desk lunches). However, meals are a great opportunity External Site to slow down and check in with your body and what you’re feeling and experiencing. Before you start eating, take eight to 10 deep breaths. Then, check in with your body — ask yourself how hungry you feel and notice any physical sensations that might give you clues, like your stomach rumbling or feeling empty, or feeling shakiness in your arms and legs.
This practice helps you become more in touch with what, when, and how much your body needs you to eat. While you’re eating, slow down and breathe deeply as you eat, which will allow you to savor your food and digest it more easily. If you don’t love what you’re eating, stop eating it. Use the first three bites to determine whether you are enjoying the taste, flavors, and textures of a certain food — and switch to something else if you aren’t genuinely enjoying it.
When you’re sitting in traffic or driving to/from work.
Have you ever gotten in your car to go from point A to point B, and at your destination realize you were completely spaced out the whole time? A lot of people drive with their mind fully distracted from the task at hand, even though they have their eyes on the road. And, heavy traffic or rude drivers can trigger a physiological response called fight or flight, making drivers more susceptible to stress and road rage. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Once you get behind the wheel, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you need. Are you running late? Do you just want to enjoy the drive? Do you have something on your mind that’s bothering you? Scan your body for any physical sensations you might be feeling that can provide clues about your mental state. Aim to reduce tension where you feel it and set an intention to be safe on the road and happy during your drive. Look around at other drivers and realize they all want the same thing — to not be stressed and to get to their destination. If you find tensions rising, take a deep breath and remind yourself of your intention for the drive. If you find your mind wandering, gently bring it back without judgment.
Putting it all together
There are many ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life. Remember that the goal is to be in a state of alert and focused relaxation, where you deliberately pay attention to thoughts and sensations without judgment. Even if you don’t set aside 10– 30 minutes for dedicated meditation, you’re still practicing it by training your brain to be more mindful. More ways to be mindful include:
- Sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing, allowing thoughts to come and go
- Noticing subtle body sensations like itching or tingling and letting them pass without judgment
- Let any emotions, whether positive or negative, be present without judgment — name them, accept their presence, and let them go
- Pay attention to what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching — name these senses without judgment and let them go
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- MayoClinic.org — Mindfulness exercises External Site
- GreaterGood.Berkeley.Edu — Five Ways Mindfulness Meditation Is Good for Your Health External Site
- Happify.com — 7 Easy Ways to Be Mindful in Your Everyday Life External Site
- Headspace.com —5 ways to get mindfulness into your everyday life External Site
- Mindful.org — How to Practice Mindfulness Throughout Your Work Day External Site