Stress comes in many forms and on many levels. On a daily basis, small stressors and worries can keep us from living a happy and relaxed life. Not only that, stress is also a contributor to heart disease and other illnesses. If you find yourself pondering the past or worried about the future, bring yourself into the present and reduce stress through the practice of mindfulness.
Essentially, mindfulness means to be present in the moment. It is important to understand this simple fact. All too often the true essence of mindfulness can be over-complicated, and emphasis is placed on the act of meditation alone. Mindfulness is not something you only do while seated in meditation, but something that can carry throughout everyday life.
It is often in the more repetitive, day-to-day activities that we find ourselves switching into auto-pilot. These moments are perfect opportunities to be more mindful. It is important not to worry about trying to clear your mind of any thoughts or feelings. Instead, try to visualize yourself taking a back seat, witnessing the thoughts and emotions as they come and go. If you find yourself getting distracted, simply bring your attention back to the physical senses and focus your attention on the activity at hand.
Here are five easy suggestions to help you bring mindfulness into your everyday life.
In the shower
Become aware of how good the warm water feels as it washes over your skin. Be mindful of the smell of the shower gel, and the sensation of your hands passing over your skin. Process your thoughts; be mindful of how much water you’re using, and mindful of the noise of the water coming to a halt.
While brushing your teeth
Become mindful of the taste and texture of the toothpaste; notice the sensation of your feet on the bathroom floor; be mindful of the way that your arm moves to direct the brush across your teeth; focus on each and every tooth.
During your commute
During a sometimes stressful time, such as a busy commute, it’s important to note the feelings you have and address them as part of a mindful practice. For example, think of the people around you and consider what they might be feeling. Be mindful of the environment as a whole and your resistance to it; notice how you might try to escape the present moment and daydream. Be mindful of the journey and how it feels – is the ride bumpy or is it comfortable and smooth?
While you wait in line
This can often be an unpleasant or rushed time. Take an opportunity to experience it and understand your body’s reactions to the situation. Notice how your mood changes when you first catch a glimpse of the queue for the bank; mindful of how you stand, your breath and where any tensions are as you scan through your body. Be mindful of the tendency to distract yourself from the present moment; and mindful of how you interact with the people around you.
While you eat
We live in a society where multitasking is the norm. It’s not uncommon to pay little attention to what we are eating and how we are eating it. Instead, we gobble a breakfast bar in the car on the way to work, have lunch at our desks while we’re checking emails and snack mindlessly at night while watching television. Before you know it, your food is gone and you have no recollection of really tasting or enjoying it. Try to find some time in your schedule to enjoy a meal without distraction. Eat slowly, and notice the way the food smells; notice the texture of it; notice what the first bite feels like. Be aware of thoughts or feelings that arise as you’re eating. Take note of whether your experience changes if you’re eating with someone versus eating alone. Eating mindfully is a great way to practice incorporating mindfulness into your daily life.
And finally, remember to just breathe. For most of us, being present takes some effort—particularly when we’re experiencing stress. Oftentimes, we find ourselves ruminating about a past event, or worried about the future. Paying attention to your breathing is a great way to bring your focus back to the present moment.
Begin by sitting comfortably, closing your eyes and gently bringing your awareness to your breath. Feel the rise and fall of your chest and belly as you inhale and exhale. Thoughts will come and go—this is natural. When your mind starts to wander, gently bring your focus back to the sensations of the breath. Setting aside as little as five minutes each day for this exercise is a great way to practice mindfulness and manage stress.
Emily Spicer is a health and wellness specialist at Altru Health System. With a positive approach to overall wellness, she inspires people to take control of their lives through a focused commitment toward better health and to make that choice a habitual and natural one. In her free time, Emily enjoys a good workout, playing tennis and spending time with her family and friends.