We’ve all encountered times of stress when our minds wander off to worry, dwell, or daydream about something. It could be ahead of a big presentation at work, during exams, or before a doctor’s appointment. You may even feel a looming sense of dread and anxiety even though you have nothing to fret about. Thoughts like these can be detrimental to our health, affecting not only our psychological well-being but our physical health too. These moments are when practicing mindfulness can help.
Mindfulness is being “in the moment.” It’s about being engaged with what we’re doing right now rather than being distracted about the past or the future. It helps us to intentionally engage with whatever we’re doing and notice when our mind wanders off elsewhere.
In times of anxiety and stress, mindfulness can become a useful tool—and the more you practice, the better you’ll get at being in the moment. Here are four ways to start practicing mindfulness.
1. Notice your breathing
Observing your breathing is an easy way to start. Take notice as you inhale and exhale, feeling your chest rise and expand on inhalation and fall and contract upon exhalation. Now try lengthening your breath, counting up to five as you breathe in and then up to five as you breathe out. Next, try shortening your breath and notice the difference in how your body feels. When we pay attention to our body’s natural rhythms in this way, we engage with the present moment, which is the essence of mindfulness.
2. Become aware
Being aware of our thoughts, feelings, and the world around us is an easy step to take that we can practice every day. Instead of drifting into autopilot on your next commute to work, for example, try tuning into the minutiae of life around you. Feel the sensations of any objects you pass, take note of every step you take, watch people’s faces and body language, and feel the air moving past your body as you walk. Notice how you feel when you get to work compared to the days when you commute on autopilot.
3. Let go
Observe the thoughts that go through your mind and take a conscious step back to watch them pass by as if you’re a bystander. Instead of attempting to change or worry over these thoughts, watch them simply float by. By standing back from our busy minds objectively in this way, over time we can train ourselves to notice when thoughts are taking over and realize that they don’t have to control us.
4. Practice self-compassion
When we feel compassion for others, we feel kindness towards them, empathy, and a genuine desire to help alleviate their suffering. Yet when faced with the very same circumstances, we often treat ourselves very differently. Instead of berating yourself for not getting that job, not acing that exam, or not making it to the gym earlier in the morning, talk to yourself like you would a friend and practice self-compassion. View your hurt and failures without judgement and instead with kindness and caring.
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