What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness simply means that you are being mindful of the here and now. It is truly a state of “living in the moment.” Being mindful means that you are paying attention to the moment (e.g., to the noises, the smells, the sights), your internal self (e.g., your passing thoughts and emotions), and your interaction with your surroundings (e.g., your physical connection to external stimuli, your thoughts regarding your surroundings). Practicing being mindful helps us to be more in touch with ourselves and the moment we are experiencing. Additionally, practicing mindfulness helps to reduce anxiety and tension.
How can I be mindful?
- Use Your Senses
Stop. Notice your breath. Feel your heartbeat. Look at how far or close you are to the computer screen. Feel the strain on your eyes as you read these words. Listen for all the surrounding noise. Feel the pressure of your hand on the mouse or keypad. Notice what part of your body makes contact with the ground and the chair. Are there any smells in the air? Feel the air pass through your nose. Pick up a snack. Put a tiny piece in your mouth. Notice the weight of it in your mouth. Feel the texture of it with your tongue. Pay attention to the saliva rushing to dissolve the snack. What does the snack taste like? Chew it. What texture does it have now? What does it taste like? What does it feel like? Again notice your breath.
When we are feeling overwhelmed, using our senses helps to ground us. It distracts our mind enough for us to calm down and handle the situation level- headedly. This technique is often used with panic attacks. Individuals who suffer from panic disorder are often advised to try to focus on controlling their breath while experiencing a panic attack.
- Be Non-Judgmental
Chances are that during that exercise you had other thoughts going through your mind. Maybe you were self- conscious about how you looked completing the exercise. Maybe you were criticizing yourself for not being mindful. These are examples of judgmental thoughts. When we are practicing mindfulness, we want to try to be non-judgmental. Thoughts should just come into our head, be acknowledged and then let out of our heads. We should not label our thoughts as “good’ or ‘bad,” “right” or “wrong,” “correct” or “incorrect.”
Practice being non-judgmental the next time that you experience anxiety or experience an unpleasant thought. For example, say the following thought pops into your head:
“I cannot do anything right.”
Acknowledge that this thought passed into your head.
“I thought: I cannot do anything right.”
Try not to assign any labels to the thought. If you do, acknowledge that.
“I thought that my thought was bad. That is a judgment.”
Keep in mind that acknowledging something is not the same as labelling it. Acknowledging that calling a thought bad is a judgment is different than thinking that calling the thought bad was bad.
Here is another example:
“I have so much to do. There is no way I can do all that. I am going to fail.”
“Okay, I just thought: I have so much to do. I will do my best.”
“I am feeling anxious.”
In this example, the individual notices her thoughts and feelings and does not necessarily have to act on them.
- Strive for Oneness
I enjoy acting. Although I tend to be on the shyer side, when I am on stage I am relaxed. By acting as someone else, I feel more in tune with myself. Time is not a factor and I can forget my stresses and obligations for the day.
When we are being mindful, we strive to have a oneness with the activity that we are doing. When I am on stage, I experience a oneness with acting (being one mindful). I become so absorbed in acting that I forget about all the obligations I still have to complete. Rehearsals and shows are times when I can let go of my anxieties for a few hours.
There are a variety of activities that people report experiencing being one mindful while doing. Yoga, sports, art, music, reading, video games, cooking, and the list goes on. I highly recommend trying to find an activity that acts as a stress-reliever—something that you can turn to when you are in a highly stressful state of mind.
Try setting a time every day, even if it is just for a minute or two, when you can practice being mindful. During these sessions, you may use an object to make the process easier. Even a pencil could be used to practice mindfulness. Use your senses to examine the pencil, notice any feelings or thoughts that arise during the mindfulness exercise, let these feelings and thoughts pass without passing any judgement on the value or quality of the thoughts and feelings. Remember to set a timer so that you are not worried about the time during these mindfulness exercises and you can truly leave all your worries and stress for a few minutes.
Note: Do not get discouraged if you find it difficult to be mindful. We are not used to getting away from our busy lives. Trying to leave everything behind, even for a moment, is challenging. Even people who practice mindfulness every day sometimes struggle with being mindful. If you find yourself drifting away from mindfulness, take note of it, do not be judgmental of yourself, and use your senses to try to return to a state of mindfulness.
By: Kaitlin McNamara Student from St. Joseph’s and Jeanette Lorandini, LCSW.