What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a way of connecting to the present moment through the awareness of our surroundings, thoughts, and sensations. Throughout our day, our minds are constantly thinking about the past or future. The average morning might consist of worrying about that project we have to finish, stressing about family drama, or even being preoccupied daydreaming about our weekend plans. Unfortunately, we are rarely fully engaged in what is happening here and now.
Mindfulness is the ability to bring awareness to your current thoughts and feelings, without judgment. Practicing mindfulness has been proven to reduce stress and negative emotions while increasing positive emotions. Lisa Dee, DBT Team Lead and Certified DBT Clinician at Nystrom & Associates notes just how impactful mindfulness is. “There is an abundance of ways to practice mindfulness on a daily basis, simply by being present and aware, nonjudgmentally, in whatever we are doing and experiencing, in each moment.”
Now that we know mindfulness can improve our quality of life, what does practicing it look like? Keep reading for eight mindfulness practices to reduce stress.
Perhaps the most underrated mindfulness practice is that of focused breathing. This exercise, while simple, is effective. Sit up straight in a chair with your feet on the floor. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Place your hand on your stomach and try to focus on how your belly moves in and out, or how your lungs are expanding and contracting. When thoughts pop up, observe them and bring your awareness back to your breath. Continue for as long as you wish.
The next time you feel your mind racing, try a walking mediation. Notice how the leaves flutter on different trees. Feel the pavement, trail, or grass as each foot touches the ground from your heel to your toes. Listen to the sounds around you. Are there cars going by, kids playing, birds chirping? Be aware of your surroundings and notice where your thoughts wander to. Bring them back to your environment and continue walking.
When was the last time you ate a meal with no phone, music, television, kids, or work around you? Take some time to have a meal with no distractions. Just you, and your food. Think about the ingredients. Where did they come from? Observe the colors. Take a bite. What’s the texture like? The taste? Chew it completely before taking another bite. The point of this exercise is to slow down and enjoy your food. Too often we are gobbling down breakfast while hurrying out the door. This practice helps us to not take our food for granted and appreciate what we have. Choosing gratitude uplifts our mood and reduces stress in the process.
Dee explains how grounding yourself through your senses is a powerful habit.
“Research supports that when we add a 5-minute mindfulness practice to our daily routine, we are more centered and the physical, emotional, and mental health benefits are profound. To get started, try focusing your attention on your surroundings – what do you see, what can you smell, what can you hear, what can you touch, what can you taste – or – bring your awareness to your breath, noticing your breath coming in and out, your chest and stomach rising and falling.”
Doing a body scan before bed or when you wake up is a wonderful way to relax your body and enhance mindfulness. To start, close your eyes and take deep, intentional breaths. While laying down, begin to relax all of your muscles, one group at a time. Start by unclenching your jaw and loosening your facial muscles. Let any tension in your shoulders and neck melt away and work your way down your body until you get to your toes. Then, bring your awareness back up your body, and when you get to your face, open your eyes.
Hand on Heart
This is another quick practice that you can do anywhere if you have a moment to yourself. Close your eyes and place your hang on your heart. Relax your muscles, your jaw, and sit up straight. Put your hand on your heart and feel it beating. Take deep breaths and bring your awareness to the rising and falling of your chest. Then bring it back to the beats of your heart. Repeat this process and few times. Feel the stress dissolve!
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Now, you do not have to officially “read” your palm, but this exercise is excellent at bringing you into the present moment and back into your body. Start by closing your eyes and taking a deep breath. Open your eyes and simply flip your hand over. Slowly trace the lines on your palm. Feel your fingertips graze each line, all the while taking intentional breaths. Keep your mind focused on how the touch feels to your fingertip along with your palm itself. Relax your shoulders and work your way toward the horizontal lines on your fingers. When you’re finished, move to your other palm. In total, this process should only take a minute or two. However, it’s such an effortless way to implement mindfulness into your day.
Ever get to your destination and you don’t recall the actual route? Zoning out while driving is common. You might be distracted by other drivers or lost in thoughts about a comment a coworker made. Whatever the reason, mindlessly driving is scary.
So instead of letting your mind wander, be aware of your drive. Observe the road and concern yourself with your actions, not the actions of other drivers. If someone cuts you off, let it go. The moment has passed and there’s nothing you can do. Granted, letting go takes practice, especially if you struggle with road rage or anger management. However, when we do this, we are much more patient, calm, and mindful drivers.
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A Word From Nystrom & Associates
Surmounting stress can affect all areas of your life. If you’re struggling to manage it, you don’t have to do it alone. At Nystrom & Associates, there are providers who teach clients how to implement mindfulness skills into their day so they can relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Call 1-844-NYSTROM or request an appointment online.
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Source: Nystrom & Associates