Mindfulness is one of those mental health buzz words people like to throw around without a lot of attention to what it is or how to practice it.
Practicing Mindfulness is one of the simplest ways to reduce stress and increase happiness. But what does it mean to be mindful? At it’s most basic level, mindfulness is being present and aware. It is purposely focusing on the present moment without judgment and without attachment.
Ok-so that is a very deep and heady description and can be a bit confusing. I was first introduced to the idea of Mindfulness during Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) training. Wrapping my brain around this nebulous concept was difficult-so it was helpful to have it explained in very basic examples.
Have you ever driven to work or the grocery store, a route you’ve taken a million times and know like the back of your hand, only to realize when you get there you have no recollection of the drive? That is the opposite of being mindful-being on automatic pilot and barely aware of your surroundings. That is how we often spend our days, especially when they’re filled with routines and “boring” activities. We can just let our minds wander and think about more pleasant things or sometimes we focus on the long list of things that need to get done or the fight we had with our spouse last week-which inevitably leads to anxiety and stress.
Practicing mindfulness means paying attention in the moment, without allowing your mind to think about other things. Athletes often talk about being “in the zone” when they’re playing a game. Their intense focus on the task at hand is basically a form of mindfulness. Because this isn’t how we normally operate-it can take practice. I often tell clients it’s like training for a marathon. Our brains are out of shape and need time and practice to build the skill.
So, how can you practice?
Let’s start with a very basic exercise. For 15 seconds, think only about your breathing. Make sure you are using good techniques by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. As other thoughts come into your mind, gently remind yourself you’re only thinking about your breathing and allow the thought to pass. For most people, the thoughts coming in and out of your mind will be distracting and you may grab ahold of one of those thoughts and forget that you’re supposed to be thinking about your breathing. That’s ok if that happens. When you remember, bring yourself back to your breathing and try your best to not judge yourself for thinking about other things. I have people start at 15 seconds because it can be extremely challenging at first. Try this exercise every day for a week-moving up to 30 or 45 seconds when you feel able. Eventually you’ll move to a minute or more.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Studies have shown that mindfulness can help people with ADHD, anger issues and a variety of other concerns. Over the next few months I will incorporate other aspects of mindfulness into blogs so you can learn more. If you have problems calming your mind or learning how to focus an experienced professional counselor can help. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our Orlando therapists.