The pace of our lives has become very fast. With our busy schedules, the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and even electronic devices that send texts and emails to our watches, it can be hard to slow down and unplug. Mindfulness is a strategy that can help us slow our minds and bodies and calm the churning thoughts in our heads. It has been a media buzzword in recent years, but many people aren’t quite sure what it is or how to do it. Modern day mindfulness is derived from ancient Buddhist and Yoga practices and is an open and friendly awareness of what is going on inside and outside of ourselves at any given moment without judgment. When we are mindful, we notice the feeling of sun on our skin, the taste of our morning coffee, a wave of sadness or frustration come over us, or a thought that popped into our minds. Being mindful helps us to pull out of autopilot mode to focus our attention, understand our thoughts and feelings, reduce stress, reduce emotional reactivity, and to promote a general sense of health and well-being.
Here are some simple mindfulness exercises that can be used in every day life to help handle stress:
If you find yourself feeling stressed, and your mind can’t let go of worries, kindly notice that this is happening and gently say to yourself, “Come back.” Then take a calm breath in through your nose and out through your mouth and focus on what you are doing right now.
Focusing on the breath can be an easy way to be more present in any given moment. Count your inhale and see if you can make your exhale a little longer. This technique helps you slow down your breathing, and it lengthens the breath out , forcing you to release more carbon dioxide, slowing your heart rate, calming you down, and restoring emotional equilibrium.
Finger breathing is a different version of counting your breath. Hold one hand in front of you with your palm facing towards you. With the index finger of your other hand, trace up the outside length of your thumb while you breath in, pausing at the top of your thumb and then trace it down the other side while you breath out. That’s one breath. Trace up the side of the next finger while you breathe in, pause at the top, and then trace down the other side of that finger while you breathe out. That’s two breaths. Keep going, tracing along each finger as you count each breath. When you get the end of the last finger, come back up that finger and do it in reverse.
This exercise can help you to focus your attention and have something to do with your hands, especially if you are anxious or in a place where there are distractions.
Notice what you are experiencing right now through three senses – sound, sight, touch. Take some calm breaths and ask yourself:
What are three things I can hear? (ex: clock ticking, a bird outside, my breath)
What are three things I can see? (this table, that sign, the tree out the window)
What are three things I can feel? (the chair under me, the shoes on my feet, my clothing on my skin)
Some useful mindfulness meditations can be accessed through these websites: