- 1 Introduction
- 2 What is Mindfulness?
- 3 The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation
- 4 How to Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
- 4.1 Mindfulness Tips
- 4.2 Give it a Chance
- 4.3 The Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness
- 4.4 Moving Meditation
- 4.5 Breathing Meditation
- 4.6 Noting
- 4.7 Visualization Meditation
- 4.8 Guided vs Unguided Meditation
- 4.9 Some Simple Mindfulness Exercises
- 4.10 Basic Practice
- 4.11 Music Mindfulness Meditation
- 4.12 Integrating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Routine – Staying in the Present
- 5 10 Tips for Keeping Calm and Stress Free
- 6 Conclusion
Nobody is immune to stress. At some point in everyone’s life, stress will come into play. Despite this, not everyone has the knowledge of the strategies used to combat stress.
Perhaps one of the most common methods of dealing with stress is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great way to promote calmness in times of great unrest, and mindfulness strategies have been around for eons.
Of course, one question remains: what exactly is mindfulness? We’re here to answer that question and more to get you on your way to better stress management in the future and during the chaos of 2020.
What is Mindfulness?
To put it simply, to be mindful is to be present and totally engaged in the current moment. Life is busy, so it’s easy to become distracted with what will happen 10 minutes from now, or even 10 years from now which can often cause a lot of stress and anxiety. When you are mindful, you are not reactive to everything going on around you, including your thoughts – you are simply acknowledging that they are there and that the world is still going on around you.
When you are practicing mindfulness, you are acknowledging the current moment, void of any judgment or distraction. It is an opportunity to be fully aware of your thoughts and feelings at the time but without letting them get into your head too much.
You may not think this is the case, but mindfulness is actually something that every person is capable of. It may sound like some magical thing that only highly trained individuals can muster, but it’s something that you are capable of, it’s just a matter of learning how to access it properly and honing is, like you would do with any other skill.
Common Misconceptions about Mindfulness
As mindfulness becomes more of a common practice in society, more myths also arise about the practice. This can cause a lot of confusion for people that perhaps aren’t as familiar with mindfulness.
Mindfulness is Designed to Eradicate Thoughts
Perhaps one of the most common misconceptions about mindfulness is that the aim is to completely eradicate thoughts. This is simply not the case. The truth is that it’s pretty difficult to completely stop thinking – most of us just aren’t designed to be that way. Instead, mindfulness is all about acknowledging the thoughts that cross your mind. It’s about seeing the thoughts as mental events that are eventually going to pass. Thoughts often change like the weather, on an hourly and a day to day basis. Understanding that they are there and that you don’t have to give power to them if you don’t want to is a pretty freeing feeling.
You Have to Sit in the Lotus Position
Often when people think about mindfulness, they think about people sitting in the lotus position as if meditating. People often think that you simply must sit like this in order for mindfulness to work, but this is just another myth. If you feel comfortable in the lotus position then by all means sit that way, but you could also sit on a kitchen or a dining chair so long as your feet are being supported properly by a cushion or the floor. Actually, you can even practice mindfulness while you are working, or when you are at work. It isn’t a practice that is limited to a specific space or position.
I’m too Busy to Practice Mindfulness
A lot of people think that you need to dedicate hours a day to practicing mindfulness, and this misconception can often deter people from attempting it. Thankfully, mindfulness doesn’t necessarily have a schedule. When you are being mindful, you are essentially learning how to let your thought go and are focusing on a certain thing within the body, such as the breath. A few minutes of mindfulness a day can be incredibly helpful – you don’t need to dedicate a whole hour or 2 a day to it. In fact, setting small goals for yourself such as ‘I will practice mindfulness for 1 minute today’ and working up from there can be a fantastic way to get started. You can also do it at home will doing some chores, or at work when you have 2 minutes spare.
Perhaps the key thing to remember when it comes to mindfulness is that it isn’t so much a practice as it is a lifestyle choice. With a little bit of integration every day for a few minutes, mindfulness will become like second nature to you, like brushing your teeth is.
You Have to Be Religious to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice that has been adapted for the modern world from ancient Buddhist practices, so it’s only natural that one may think that having a religious affiliation is necessary if you want to practice mindfulness. Actually, you don’t need to follow any particular religion to practice mindfulness and meditate, as it is taught in a secular way. It is not limited to one particular group of people.
The Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation
So, not that you have an idea about what mindfulness is, you may be wondering why you should do it in the first place? Mindfulness has a bunch of different benefits that anyone can experience. These benefits can come in a range of forms, from improvements to physical and psychological symptoms, to improvements in attitude, health and behaviors.
General Well Being
Mindfulness is the perfect practice for cultivating healthy attitudes that can help you to lead a fulfilling and satisfactory life. The focus on remaining in the present moment can help you to learn to simply enjoy the pleasures of the current moment as they are happening. As a result of this, you may become more engaged in certain activities, and you may be better equipped to deal with hardships when they happen. If you are practicing mindfulness regularly, it means that you are also less likely to find yourself constantly worrying about the future or regretting the past. You may also find that you are less worried about your self esteem or success. Your relationships may even improve in your day to day life too!
You may be wondering how exactly mindfulness is able to help improve relationships. Well, some researchers have found evidence to suggest that mindfulness can help to enhance the ability to communicate and empathize with our peers. It also means that you are less likely to be reactive during a conflict.
Healthy relationships are completely vital not only for our emotional wellbeing, but just for health in general. Poor relationships with loved ones can have some highly negative effects on health, and can lead to low mood for some people.
Physical Health Improvements
Not only is mindfulness great for your general wellbeing, but it’s also fantastic for your physical health. Scientists have discovered that mindfulness can help you to relieve stress, just to start with. It can also help to treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce any chronic pain, it helps to improve your sleep and it’s even able to reduce gastrointestinal difficulties.
In addition to this, mindfulness has been proven to help to increase general awareness and improve attention and focus. This can mean that you are able to perform better at work and in your daily life because you are more aware of what’s going on around you. Many people find that their thinking and perception is a lot more clear, and people have also reported a general sense of calmness from practicing mindfulness.
Helps with Weight Loss Efforts
Have you been trying to lose weight, but you’ve had a difficult time doing so? Well, mindfulness may help you with this.
When eating, it is easy to become distracted by watching TV, using the computer or staring at your smartphone. Likewise, eating in a rush can also encourage you to eat more, thus you may gain weight. Have you ever just grabbed a bag of chips, and just mindlessly eaten the whole bag before you know it because you’ve been paying more attention to the TV?
Mindfulness practice can help you to slow down while you eat, allowing you to enjoy every bite and focus on what you’re eating. As a result, you are more likely to be able to control your intake easily. When you eat mindfully, you are usually eating while taking much smaller bites and really paying attention to what it is that you’re eating.
Mindful eating means that you are also more likely to be able to recognize the hunger cues that tell you when you are full. If you’re distracted, it’s a lot more difficult to notice those indicators.
Mental Health Improvements
Perhaps the biggest benefit of mindfulness is the effect that it has on a person’s mental health. In fact, mindfulness is a treatment that is often recommended for people that struggle with mental health related issues, such as anxiety and depression, among others.
There has been a lot of evidence that supports the benefits of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, also known as MBSR. Many people throughout the world who have participated in this kind of mental health treatment have been able to cope with stress much better. Many practitioners will also integrate cognitive therapy into the treatment, and this is designed for people that have recurring symptoms of depression.
Mindfulness has been proven to stimulate activity in the pre frontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for positive emotions. Naturally, this means it’s great for people that struggle with stress and low mood.
Improved Cognitive Abilities
We are currently in an age of information, so there’s a lot more to absorb now than perhaps any other time in history! Having so much information to remember can make you feel incredibly overwhelmed and as a result you may find it tricky to focus. Mindfulness is a great way to help to improve your focus and cognitive abilities. In fact, one particular study tested the impact that mindfulness meditation has one 24 participants. These participants were evaluated based on their mood, the fluency of their speech, visual coding and their working memory. After a mere four sessions of mindfulness, these same participants were much better at staying focused and processing information than they were before they started practicing mindfulness.
How to Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
Before you start with mindfulness, it may be a little less overwhelming to know these helpful tips:
Let Your Thoughts Flow – When you are practicing your mindfulness meditation, you will notice that once you begin to concentrate your thoughts will flow. Simply observe any thoughts and feelings that arise, trying not to judge them as either good or bad. Just acknowledge that they are there.
Pay Attention – When you are meditating, you are also likely to notice external sensations, like sounds and physical feelings that contribute to your experience in that moment. Try to avoid latching onto any particular emotion or idea, and try not t deliberate on the past or the future. Just notice any mental habits or patterns as they happen.
Practice Acceptance – This is a very important thing to remember. Mindfulness involves acknowledging and accepting anything that you notice in every moment. It’s important that you forgive yourself and that you are kind to yourself. If you find that your mind starts to wander, then gently redirect it to the meditation practice, getting back to noticing body sensations. If you do find that you missed a session anywhere, you should also try to start again. Practice makes perfect!
Give it a Chance
Mindfulness isn’t always a comfortable, relaxing experience – especially when you start. After a while though, you are likely to feel all of the benefits that we mentioned above and more. You will also be more self aware as you learn to be comfortable in your own mind. Stay with the process – it will only get better.
The Different Ways to Practice Mindfulness
Now you know what mindfulness is, it’s time to learn how you can practice mindfulness.
As we’ve already mentioned, mindfulness does not simply come in just one form – there are many different ways that you can practice mindfulness, so you can find something that will fit in with your lifestyle and interests. Here are a couple of the key forms of mindfulness meditation:
Body Scan Meditation – This kind of meditation is usually done lying down, but you can position yourself in whatever way you choose to. With this kind of meditation, you are aware of your body sensations in a mindful sort of way. This kind of meditation will allow you to understand how your attention can shift so quickly, and it will help you to learn to be kind to yourself when this occurs.
As the name suggests, this kind of meditation involves movement. This kind of movement is usually things like t’ai chi, qi gong or yoga, and it essentially consists of being aware of your body movements, your breathing and more. Many people also partake in walking meditation instead.
This kind of meditation only really needs to take around three minutes or so. You can use it whenever you’re stressed wherever you are. It is designed to help you to be mindfully aware of your experiences as opposed to avoiding it.
Noting basically requires you to notice a thought or a feeling when it comes into your mind, and recognising that it is distracting you. This helps to heighten awareness and will help you to let go. It also helps you to understand your thought patterns.
This kind of meditation involves conjuring up a picture or a person in your mind. Instead of focusing with breathing, you are focusing on a mental image. Some people may find this a little difficult but it’s actually pretty simple once you get into it. When you come up with a certain visualization, you will be able to observe your mind and you can also focus on any physical sensations that may occur.
Guided vs Unguided Meditation
When you are looking to start practicing mindfulness, one of the first things that you need to ask yourself is whether you want to practice alone or with the help of a teacher.
If you want someone to teach you, then you will be looking to start with guided meditation. With this form of mindfulness meditation, a teacher will guide you through the key steps. This may be in person or you could use an app on your mobile device that is designed for meditation. If you’ve never done any meditation before then this is ideal because the teacher has had plenty of experience with it before, and you can use their knowledge and expertise to help you to get a more fulfilling mindfulness experience.
With unguided meditation, most of the sessions will follow a similar format. To start with, the teacher will tell you how the mind will behave when you are meditating and will guide you through a particular technique. The teacher will then explain how you can make this fit in with your daily life.
Unguided meditation, then, is exactly how it sounds. You essentially meditate by yourself without anyone explaining how it works. Lots of people will just sit in a quiet room and just simply pay attention to their body and their thoughts for a certain amount of time. For other people, they may utilize techniques that they’ve learned from previous meditation practices with a teacher.
Some Simple Mindfulness Exercises
Those are just a few of the different ways that you can practice mindfulness. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some simple exercises that you can do at home by yourself or with a family member!
This is essentially just the basic mindfulness practice. To start with, sit on a chair with a straight back or you can also sit with your legs crossed on the floor. Then, try to focus on a particular aspect of your breathing. This could be the feelings of air flowing through your nose and out of your mouth. It could also be the feeling of your belly rising and falling as you breathe.
Once you have focused your attention, you can then allow your focus to widen, taking in any sounds, feelings and ideas that appear. Allow yourself to acknowledge and let in every thought or sensation, trying not to judge it as a positive or negative thought. If you find that your mind is racing, you can then shift your attention back onto your breathing. Expand again once you feel that you are ready.
Music Mindfulness Meditation
You may find that it’s difficult to be mindful in total silence – for some, it can feel a little bit frightening. If this sounds like you, then you can also practice mindfulness along with some music.
First of all, find a comfortable space. This could be sitting on the couch, or sitting by a relaxing body of water somewhere by yourself. Then, put some music on for a couple of minutes. If you are struggling to know what you should play, you could check out online sites such as YouTube that have music mindfulness or meditation playlists you could use. Classical music can also be quite helpful.
Once you have selected your track and gotten yourself comfortable, let yourself just be totally immersed in the song that’s playing. You may wish to focus on one particular instrument throughout the piece, listening to every single thing that the instrument is doing. Follow each cadence and rhythm. Then, you can listen to the same song again but you can shift your focus onto a different instrument entirely. If you don’t want to focus on the music itself, you can instead simply recognize the emotions that the piece awakens in you.
This is a great practice for when you’re just about to go to bed, or for when you are relaxing in the bathtub.
Integrating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Routine – Staying in the Present
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be an entirely formal affair, however. Mindfulness is just about staying in the present, so you can take pretty much any task or any moment and turn it into an opportunity to be mindful. You could practice mindfulness as you eat, as you shower, while going for a walk or while you’re just washing the dishes. Here are a couple of things that you can consider if this is how you would prefer to practice mindfulness.
To begin, pay attention to the different feelings and sensations in your body. Pay attention to each part of the body – how are you feeling physically? Then, take a deep breath in through your nose. Let the air travel downwards into the bottom of your belly, and let your abdomen totally expand. Then, exhale through the mouth. When you are inhaling and exhaling, recognize how each inhale and exhale feels – what physical sensations arise?
From here, continue with the task as hand, giving it your full deliberation. Make sure that you are paying attention to your senses while doing so, recognizing touch, sight, and sound (and taste, if you’re eating!) and relish in every sensation. If you do notice that your mind has gone off track, just try to guide your attention gently back to the current sensations in that moment.
10 Tips for Keeping Calm and Stress Free
Aside from mindfulness, how else can you stay calm and stress free in 2020? Cultivating a general sense of wellbeing is pretty important when it comes to keeping calm and stress free, so here are some ways that will help.
- 1. Stay Away from the Coffee!
Well, not necessarily just coffee, but caffeine in general. This also goes for other things such as alcohol and nicotine.
Why is this? Caffeine and nicotine are actually stimulants, which means that they are more likely to increase your stress levels rather than reducing it. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depression when you take too much of it, though it can behave as a stimulant when you drink less of it. Relying on caffeine, nicotine and alcohol to cope with stress is not the ideal strategy in the long term.
Instead of drinking caffeine and alcoholic drinks, you may instead choose to opt for other things such as water, herbal teas or natural fruit juices that have been diluted. Make sure that you also keep yourself hydrated as this can help your body to deal with stress better.
- 2. Get Physical!
When you’re stressed, your body creates increased levels of hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones are designed to protect the body from any immediate harm, and have been ingrained into us through evolution. Of course, in the modern day fight or flight responses doesn’t tend to solve stress, so getting more physical activity into your life can be a massive help when it comes to combatting stress.
If you find yourself feeling stressed or tense, you could try going for a short walk in the great outdoors. It’s also a good idea to try and get a decent amount of physical activity into your routine on a daily basis. You may wish to do this before or after work or during a lunch break.
- 3. Keep Connected
When you’re stressed, it can help to make sure that you have a good support network around you. Talking to someone can help to distract you from what’s going on, and can help you to vent out any frustrations that you are currently feeling. Stress is good at stopping people from seeing clearly, so you can get more clarity by talking to others. It may help you to feel better in the long run.
People are very social creatures, and going too long without social interaction can be detrimental for many. During 2020, you may find it difficult to be able to interact with friends and family due to restrictions in your area brought on by Covid-19, but you don’t have to see people in person to stay connected! There are a bunch of websites and applications on most smartphones that you can use to stay connected, from FaceTime, to Zoom to Facebook Messenger. If you find yourself feeling lonely and that’s contributing to your stress, give a loved one a call for a chat. Sometimes hearing someone’s voice can be so much more rewarding than texting back and forth.
- 4. Try Journalling Your Feelings and Thoughts
Journalling is a useful tool for general wellbeing, but if you find that you are often experiencing stress, it may help to keep a stress diary. You don’t need to do this for the rest of your life, just for a few weeks until the feelings subside. This may not seem like the most helpful thing to do at first, but it can help you to gain more awareness of situations that stress you out.
For each entry, write down the time, date and the place of the stressful episode. Note down the things you were doing, the people that you were around and the way the situation made you feel both in a physical and emotional sense. You should then try to give the episode a stress rating from around 1-10. After a while, you should have enough data to understand what things trigger stressful episodes and you will understand how good you are at dealing with stressful circumstances. It means that once you know what things stress you out, you can learn how to cope better with them, and in some cases avoid them in future.
- 5. Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep can seem like such an insignificant thing, but it’s actually vital to our wellbeing as a whole. Sleep can also impact our stress levels. On the same note, stress can also stop you from sleeping because your thoughts will get in the way, so what are you supposed to do in that case?
Most people turn to medication to help them get to sleep, but before you go down that road try to make sure that you are fully relaxed before you drift off to sleep. Ensure that your bedroom is completely peaceful, like your own personal paradise so you have the best environment to sleep without any reminders of the stress of waking life.
Try to avoid things such as lots of caffeine in the evening before, and also stay away from lots of alcohol before bed because it can result in disturbed sleep. You should also try to stay away from any work that requires a lot of mental strain in the hours before you go to bed – allow your brain to have a rest before you drift off!
You can also do other things to help you to drift off, such as taking a relaxing warm bath or you could read a book. Try and stay away from technology before bed too if you are able too.
Finally, make sure that you are getting to bed at around the same time every night as your body will start to recognize the sleep schedule, meaning you will likely find it easier to get to sleep.
- 6. Get Organized
Perhaps one of the biggest causes of stress is feeling out of control. Getting organized can help with this. Having an extensive to do list can often feel a little bit overwhelming, so it’s important to properly manage your time and understand that sometimes it simply isn’t possible to do everything.
Try to create a list of every thing that you have to do during the week and then order them by the level of priority. You should consider whether these are all tasks that simply must be done by you and what things can be delegated to other people. Once you have listed these tasks by priority, figure out what things need to be done right now and what ones need to be done in the next week and month.
When one big list becomes overwhelming, editing it down to smaller chunks can feel a lot more manageable, especially if tasks are spread across a longer span of time. You should also account for when unexpected things crop up, and make sure you take some time for your own relaxation.
- 7. Accept There are Things You Can’t Control
As we’ve already said, control issues are a big contributor to stress. It’s easy to get bogged down by the thoughts that it feels like you have no control over your life. When you are in a situation where things cannot be controlled, it’s important to take a step back and acknowledge that.
First of all, take a moment to recognize the things that you cannot change. You cannot change the past, to start with. It’s also not possible to control other people, and you can’t change the laws of nature. Some things are just going to happen no matter what you do, which can seem frightening but it’s vital that you learn to accept that. For those things that you cannot change, it’s okay to grieve them.
On the other hand, there are also things that you are able to change. It’s worth trying to focus on what you are able to control, and this can help you to feel less like you are powerless. Now, this may sound like a scary and difficult thing to do, and this kind of awareness can take time to cultivate – which is why practicing mindfulness can be so helpful.
- 8. Slow Down
If you are able to, you should try not to instantly react to stressful situations. Take a little bit of time just to breathe and absorb what’s just happened – allow yourself to gather all of the information before you respond. You should consider whether the stressful situation is going to be important in a week, or a month or a year. If it is going to be important, then take a moment to step back and get away from the situation to an extend. View yourself from the outside instead of from inside of your own head, as this can help you to detach from the situation emotionally, allowing you to engage more with the moment at hand and it will give you more clarity. This isn’t to say that you should always detach from situations at an emotional level, but sometimes it can be helpful to take a moment to just digest the situation instead of jumping in with an instant reaction.
- 9. Listen to Your Body
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘your body is a temple’ so many times by now, but it really is true. As we’ve already mentioned, things like sleep and exercise can have a huge impact on your stress levels and wellbeing as a whole. Similarly, prioritizing your general health is also important. Make sure that you are listening to what your body needs when it comes to diet, keeping a balanced diet full of plenty of healthy nutrients. Similarly, if your body is telling you that it’s time to slow down and breathe, listen to it.
- 10. Be Kind to Yourself
It’s easy to start berating yourself when times are stressful. We all have times when we blame ourselves for things that are happening around us, even if it’s not our fault. Instead of being unkind to yourself though, take a moment to realize the things that you are doing well. If you are finding that your stressful situation isn’t helping your self esteem, give yourself a moment to applaud yourself for the things you’re doing right. Being unkind to yourself in a stressful situation is only going to stress you out more.
If you are struggling with stress, especially in 2020, mindfulness and meditation are fantastic coping strategies to help you to stay calm and rational in times of turbulence. Though it may seem difficult to start with, after some continuous practice you will be on your way to reaping all of the benefits that mindfulness has to offer. You will be one step closer to a calmer, more stress free life.