When professionals encourage us to practice mindfulness, what they’re really imploring us to do is to be more aware of ourselves holistically. Mindfulness is associated with better health outcomes. It’s vital to our ability to focus when practicing yoga, martial arts, exercising, learning and advancing our careers. We know to utilize it when we’re focused on specific goals. Incorporating it as a daily practice has been shown to significantly improve mental health and overall quality of life.
Henry Miller said, “The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware…” In a day and age where many of us bemoan that we need to “get a life”, mindfulness is the optimal starting point. We’re a culture that is increasingly distracted by social media, newsfeeds, and Netflix. To be aware of oneself allows us to have a greater clarity and ability to act on what we most want, need, and feel.
Awareness of our bodies
Putting it into practice starts with monitoring ourselves physically. Too often we only become aware of our bodies when they’re in a negative state. We overlook common sense approaches to health: deep breathing, stretching, eating nutritiously, drinking water, and getting sufficient sleep. To consider our physical needs can be done in mere seconds.
Our bodies are always providing hints as to what we’re thinking and feeling. Stress and anxiety manifest as muscle tension and G.I. distress. Depression is evident in lethargy and excessive fatigue. Noticing the physical simplifies the process of determining our mental and emotional states.
When we’re dissatisfied with our lives or present circumstances, we often fall into circular patterns of thinking. When stress and competing demands impede us, we endlessly consider problems, limitations, and time restraints. Mindfulness allows us to stop, break the unproductive pattern, clear our minds and come back with fresh eyes. Better still, it is likely to trigger the thought, “Who could help me with this?”
Adaptive responses to emotions
Mindfulness allows us to identify our subconscious coping mechanisms. Anxiety disorders have been on the rise for decades. Part of the makeup of those conditions is a lack of effective coping with a full range of negative emotions. Mindfulness allows us to ask two important questions:
* What would I be feeling if I weren’t anxious?
* What’s the most effective way for me to cope and adjust to my current circumstances?
Most of us do not make unhealthy choices consciously. Mindfulness brings our internal conflicts and avoidance to the surface where it can be processed in a healthy manner. Emotions should never be judged. That’s the most common pitfall we unwittingly fall into. Mindfulness allows us to use the same perspective we’d use in advising and supporting others.
New habits are the key to change
Experts at Maine Behavioral Healthcare encourage us to start with simple strategies that promote awareness. Self-discipline is the key to change and they suggest that combining this with technology as an easy step toward meaningful change. Relying on good intentions and memory are likely to prove insufficient. There are a myriad of apps that can be used to prompt us to take moments to breathe deeply, stretch, and increase our physical activity.
Five minutes of journaling is a great start. It’s a proven strategy for getting on the same page with ourselves both literally and figuratively. Too often our minds become fast moving hamster wheels. Positive change begins when we make our struggles overt. Writing lists of gratitude and potential supports/resources in addition to our endless to do lists allows us to be more aware of solutions and promotes optimal decision making.