Using mindfulness is not about religious or spiritual beliefs, nor is it a complex set of practices we must adhere to strictly. Instead, mindfully focusing is simple, and once mastered we can apply it to nearly all aspects of our lives.
Using mindfulness techniques cannot only promote better mental and emotional wellness, but it can also help us feel better physically as well as maintain healthier, more positive relationships.
Mindfulness is a habit of mind that means, simply, that you are paying attention on purpose to what is happening in the present, and you are doing so non-judgmentally.
To be mindful means we become focused on what is happening right now. We are able to redirect the mind to the present when it wanders away from what is happening right now, and we so intentionally and purposefully.
Being mindful focuses us on whatever is happening in life at that moment. In today’s world of multi-tasking, instant gratification, and distractions, it can be hard to stay in the moment for very long. Mindfulness teaches helps us to notice when our mind wanders, and to return our thoughts to the present.
When you first start to practice this, you may notice that your mind wanders. That is completely normal. The “practice” part comes when you purposefully bring your attention back. Don’t worry or judge yourself for the wander, just refocus and be present. That is being mindful.
Mindfulness is now being used to improve mental health, increase emotional awareness and wellness, promote better physical health, and to improve interpersonal relationships. Not only can being mindful help you to feel more focused and attentive, but it can actually change the way our brain processes, how we handle emotions, how our body responds to stress, and so much more.
Improving overall mental wellness should be a goal for everyone, regardless of their current mental health status. Because mindfulness is focused on being fully aware in the present, it teaches greater control over our thoughts, which can be a positive thing for many people who suffer from mental health issues
By practicing mindfulness, we are actually teaching the mind to pay more attention to what is currently happening in life and less attention to our “mental monologue,” which can often include a running list of past regrets, mistakes, hurt feelings, and other distractions that keep you from living your life. Attention is something you can learn and become better at over time.
Reducing Anxiety and Depression
Those with anxiety and depression seem to notice the greatest benefit from practicing mindfulness techniques. Some researchers are even noting that certain types of mindfulness activities can be as effective as talk therapy for treating some patients with these types of disorders.
The National Institute of Health’s database of published medical research now includes over 500 scientific studies on the use of meditation or mindfulness and the brain.
As an intervention for mental health issues like anxiety and depression, mindfulness is a natural fit. Depressive thoughts are generally focused on the past, while anxious thoughts are usually fixated on the future.
By training our brain to focus solely on the present, we are able to attend to what is happening here and now.
Brain scans of those who practice mindfulness techniques indicate more activity in the areas controlling attention regulation. New neural pathways are created in the brains of more mindful individuals.
Mindfulness, therefore, can change the way the brain operates. This can help with many forms of mental illness, as well as improve overall mental health.
Emotional wellbeing is tied to mental wellness. But, changing our cognitive processes does not always change the emotions tied to those thoughts, but that is where mindfulness can also be a support.
Mindfulness makes us aware more fully of what is happening in the present, both externally and internally.
Because mindfulness is all about living in the present, it can help us move past some of the most negative emotions we often experience that are tied to the past.
When we focus on the present, and what is happening right now, we avoid getting trapped in emotions about the past and the future.
Living in the present
If we live in the present, we are better able to experience the joy of life, learn from our experiences, and learn how to deal more effectively with the psychological wounds we carry with us.
Allowing our emotions to rest squarely on an unknown future or regret-filled past, we neglect the possibilities of our present situation.
Living outside of our present means we are likely to end up with feelings of sadness, emptiness, restlessness, guilt, or regret, due to our diminished ability to appreciate and acknowledge our present reality.
Regaining control of our emotions means we can realize our full potential in life, and this is possible through mindfulness practices.
By accepting and seizing each moment in our life, we become more fully aware of the perceptions, sensations, beliefs, and feelings that are guiding our life.
Mindfulness is not about ignoring all the thoughts that come into our head, but instead, it means we are able to acknowledge it, accept it for what it is, and continue to experience the world in spite of them.
Mindfulness shifts the center of our attention from our thoughts about something to the thing itself. We still have those thoughts, but we realize that we no longer have to respond or react to every thought that comes into our mind.
Taking a nonjudgmental stance regarding these thoughts allows us to experience more of life without allowing our feelings about things to control our every action.
Because the health of the body is tied directly to the health of the mind, and vice versa, changing the way we think can actually change how we feel.
Because mindfulness affects our emotional and mental health, our body enjoys many physical benefits from these types of practices.
When we become more mindful, we’re more attuned to our thoughts and emotions, but we also become more aware of our physical body, picking up on the subtle hints our body gives that it is healthy, or perhaps in need of attention.
Being more mindful can alert us more to small problems before they become large ones, and mindfulness techniques can teach us to pay closer attention to the body’s needs.
Lower Stress And Better Sleep
Living more fully in the present has been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep, two important components of physical wellbeing.
Stress causes many problems or contributes to the worsening of others. When we are mindful and living in the present, we are able to focus on what is important now, which means less worry about tomorrow and yesterday.
Learning to practice mindfulness can also help us sleep better at night. Mindfulness lowers anxiety, which is one of the most significant reasons people lay awake at night.
Those who are more mindful throughout their day also have lower stress levels, which translates into getting to sleep faster, as well, according to researchers at the University of Utah (Better Living Through Mindfulness).
So, if you want to sleep easier, begin being more mindful both during the day and at bedtime.
Being more mindful can also lower blood pressure and regulate stress hormones, both of which, over time, can improve heart health.
High blood pressure and high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to oxidative stress and the buildup of plaque in the arteries that feed the heart.
Reducing these, along with other heart-healthy lifestyle and diet choices, can improve the heart’s health and longevity.
Reduction In Pain
Those who practice mindfulness meditation techniques have been known to experience a reduction in pain as well as have fewer migraine headaches.
Meditation can reduce emotional stress, which is a cause of migraines, and these techniques make it possible to exercise control over the extent to which we experience sensations like pain.
Decreased Levels Of Inflammation And Disease
The mind also exhibits some control over the immune system’s inflammatory response mechanism. Becoming more mindful can actually help train the brain to slow or stop inflammation as a response to certain conditions.
Trained attention and focus could be the ticket, with the right practices combined with other therapies can reduce chronic inflammation and the inflammatory response to many chronic diseases and conditions.
Body Image and Eating Habits
Mindfulness training is increasingly being incorporated into weight loss plans and programs. This type of cognitive training can help control impulses, increase the ability to follow an eating plan, and help deal with the negative emotions we may have about food and eating.
Mindfulness plays an important role in the regulatory areas of the brain, making it an effective addition to weight loss efforts.
Those who are prone to emotional eating, which often leads to unwanted weight gain, have seen great success with mindfulness techniques. Being mindful while preparing and eating food lowers emotional eating behaviors, which means it could be an effective therapy for those with eating disorders as well as anyone looking to maintain weight loss.
Those who use mindfulness tools can also improve their body image, which plays a critical role in weight loss and your emotions about food and eating. Being mindful can help to focus on present reality non-judgmentally, which can foster a healthier self-image and allow us to develop a healthier relationship with our body as well as food.
Lower Dementia Risk
Practicing mindfulness techniques can also support cognitive pathways to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
While dementia is influenced by many factors, including lifestyle and genetic factors, practicing mindfulness could be helpful in training the brain’s neural pathways to be more elastic, which could possibly lower the chance of developing dementia.
While most people are familiar with the concepts of mental, emotional, and physical wellness, social wellness may be a new idea.
Just as emotional and mental health impact the physical self, and vice versa, our social relationships are also important for overall health and wellbeing.
Having strong social connections can actually improve mortality risk, boost the immune system, and lower levels of cortisol in the brain, all of which influence overall wellness.
As social creatures, our brains are actually wired to seek connection with other humans. Our families, friendships, and partnerships are deeply important to our happiness and health and learning to cultivate these is an essential life skill.
Here are some ways we can maintain social wellness using mindfulness and other attention techniques:
Know Yourself Better
When we are more mindful, we have a better understanding of ourself, what makes us tick, what triggers negative emotions, and what we value in life.
Knowing all of these things can help us engage in more positive relationships that better match our values and interests, which can help us to grow and become more fulfilled.
Be Present In Relationships
To build healthy, long-lasting relationships, we must be emotionally available to friends.
That is very hard to do when we are not fully present in our interactions with them. Being mindful when spending time with others, means we are more fully present.
It means we can be more vulnerable with them as we share essential parts of ourself, and we can stop second-guessing others’ motives and intentions.
Friendship is a two-way street, and the way to encourage others to be open and honest with us is to be that way with them.
And, when we need friends who are there to help us, we must also be there for them when they are in need.
Friendship is about being there when the other person needs us, and when we are mindful during our time with our friends, they will notice this focus and attention, making them more likely to want to be there.
Your Emotions Are Not Their Emotions
Being mindful means listening and paying attention non-judgmentally, but it does not mean having to identify with and compare ourselves to every emotion the other person shares.
Mindfulness teaches us to notice when our attention is wandering, and when it starts to wander to our own emotions and issues, you know it is time to re-engage with the other person.
This can help to remain empathetic but not taking responsibility for the other person’s feelings. Authentic interactions with real friends should not leave us exhausted or miserable, and if we are practicing mindfulness, it is easier to maintain the healthy boundaries necessary for any successful relationship.
Deal With Conflict Better
Being mindful can help us understand why conflict arises, how to best manage disagreements with others, and how to better approach these types of situations in the future.
Differences are inevitable, and there is not anything inherently wrong with conflict. Being mindful helps us engage more effectively with conflict resolution, keeps us alert to the signals that someone else is not handling your disagreement well, and lets us know when it’s okay to agree to disagree.
Mindful practices’ focus on no judgments means we can be more patient and understanding with others who are not yet committed to this way of thinking and interacting.
There are two people involved in every relationship. Taking responsibility for our own part in interactions and disagreements means we accept our role in the present situation.
Being mindful can help us better observe and be present in the situation without judgment as well as provide us with the attention the other person deserves to come to a mutually beneficial outcome.
Mindfulness in relationships can lead to more healthy, worthwhile interactions and a stronger bond between ourselves and our loved ones. Being present in our interactions shows the other person we are engaged and care about their needs, and over time, this will bring us closer together.
How To Be More Mindful
There are many simple techniques w can incorporate into daily routines to help us learn to be more mindful and pay attention with more intention. The following are some hints and tips for learning to be more mindful in daily life.
#1. Be mindful in your daily routines.
When you are engaging in something you normally do on autopilot, bring awareness to your activities. Brush your teeth while focusing on each specific part of the process, really smell and taste the foods you are using to prepare dinner.
Focusing during these times, on things that are already second nature to you, can engage more parts of your mind on the intentional aspects of mindfulness.
#2. Be mindful while you wait.
Whether it is on hold, in line, or in traffic, we spend a lot of our lives waiting. Instead of focusing on the inefficiency of this time, or getting more frustrated the longer you wait, try using this time to be more mindful.
While you are waiting, engage in deep breathing exercises, being cognisant of how your breath fills your body, and how breathing helps you relax. Mindfully breathing is an excellent meditation technique and practicing this during times when you are otherwise doing little is an excellent way to practice.
#3. Start your day with mindfulness.
As soon as you wake up in the morning, start your day with mindful practice. This helps your body and mind set the tone for the day, and it gets you ready to tackle what lies ahead. Engage in a short mindfulness meditation session to get your mind focused and start your day with the right habits.
#4. Practice breathing.
Focusing on your breath is a great way to practice being mindful. Start by taking a slow, deep breath in through your nose while counting slowly to four. Hold this for one second, then slowing exhale your breath to the count of five.
Repeat this three times in a row. This technique works as a great “reset” button when you are having trouble staying present in your daily life, as well.
#5. Go for a walk.
As you stroll through your neighborhood, office building, or wherever you may be, notice everything your senses are detecting. What sights, smells, and sounds are entering your brain? What is your breath doing? How does your body feel? Be present the entire time you are walking, focusing on the moment and not on the worries or thoughts that may be entering as you walk.
#6. It is okay for your mind to wander.
Your brain is naturally curious and seeks connections to things you have already learned, so it is very natural for your mind to wander while you are doing other things.
The benefit of mindfulness is that you first are able to recognize when your mind is wandering or when your brain is distracted. Another benefit is you are training your mind to return to the present, to bring it back from the wandering, which is a learned skill.
#7. Practice in short increments.
You cannot possibly stay mindful and fully focused on the present at all times all day long. Instead, focus on shorter periods of mindfulness several times per day, versus, say, a weekend dedicated to mindful work.
Start small and build up, by shooting for 20-minute sessions at least four times a day is a good target to work toward as you practice your mindfulness techniques.
#8. Be mindful while eating.
Meals are a perfect time to practice being mindful, as they present sensory input for multiple senses, and you can only eat for a finite amount of time. Focus on enjoying the eating experience, from the textures to the tastes and subtle nuances in each bite. Focus on how your body responds to eating this meal, when you start to feel full, and how this food makes you feel physically.
#9. Cue yourself to be mindful.
Pick a stimulus you regularly encounter, such as when you walk through a specific doorway, when you hear a certain noise, or when it is time for a given activity. That is your cue to practice being mindful.
#10. Find ways mindfulness is supported in your community.
Your local area likely has resources related to yoga, meditation, and mindfulness programs focused on stress reduction or weight loss. Find out what is available in your area, including community centers, bookstores, and healthcare centers.
The Power Of Mindful Practice
Mindfulness techniques have been a part of eastern practices related to meditation and yoga for centuries, and without the past two decades, these practices have become more popular as they seep into mainstream culture.
Now that medical science is understanding and embracing the power of practices like mindfulness, we are starting to truly understand the benefits of this positive mental state of mind.
Living each day with a focus on the present, rather than the past or the future, allows us to respond to opportunities and experiences more fully as well as learn from the rich experiences life has to offer.
Practicing mindfulness provides us with the mental and cognitive space to gain some peace and quiet in a chaotic world, which can be healing and helpful.