If you’re active in mental health spaces, it’s likely that you’ve heard of the term “mindfulness”. Mindfulness is a great skill for anyone to learn if they’re looking to improve their mental health, reduce their stress levels, and increase their sense of clarity. It’s often taught as a skill in therapeutic settings such as individual or group therapy, and it’s also utilized during meditation practices. So, you might ask, what is mindfulness? How can I implement it into my life?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is purposeful consciousness. It’s often described as a practice of being aware of the present moment that you’re experiencing without judgment. When you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re acknowledging what is happening right now, and you’re meeting it with acceptance. A therapist might have you practice mindfulness by closing your eyes and holding an object; say, a rock for example. You’ll pick up the rock and notice how it feels in your hand; is it smooth, or is it rough? Is it large, or is it small? They may also have you recognize a circumstance, such as a test at school that is making you nervous, and meet that feeling (as well as the situation itself) with radical acceptance. In this scenario, you’d notice your feelings of nervousness and say “I notice that I’m feeling anxious about this test right now. All that I can do is my best when I take the exam.” That’s how mindfulness can be applied most effectively in everyday situations.
How does it help?
There are a multitude of positive effects affiliated with practicing mindfulness. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness can help you reduce your stress levels, improve cognitive function and memory, increase your ability to focus, and it can even aid you in improving your interpersonal relationships. Learning to implement mindfulness techniques can help those with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, but it’s a useful technique for anyone. If the positive impact mindfulness has on your mental health isn’t enough to sell you on the idea, you should know that mindfulness doesn’t just enhance your mental health – it can actually boost your physical health as well! In addition to the positive effects that it has on your emotional and psychological well-being, mindfulness can boost your immune system, improve your quality of sleep, and can even reduce somatic symptoms affiliated with psychological distress such as GI issues.
How to practice mindfulness?
There are many ways to integrate mindfulness into your life. Mindfulness can help you in your intimate relationships or friendships. Here are three common mindfulness exercises that you can practice alone, with a therapist, or even with a friend or family member.
1. Deep breathing
I know that it sounds cliche, but taking the time to breathe deeply really can make a world of difference for your mental state. Take the time to breathe deeply, focusing on how your body feels as you inhale and exhale. Deep breathing exercises are actually proven to have physical health benefits, so it’s worth a try!
2. The full-body scan
Scan your body and notice how it feels. Start from your toes and work your way up, acknowledging how each body part feels. Wiggle your toes and think about how it feels, then move up to your legs. How do your leg muscles feel? Are they tense? What about your shoulders? Make it a point to relax your body.
3. Have a mindful cup of tea
Make yourself a cup of tea or another comforting beverage that you enjoy. Notice how the cup feels in between your hands, and then, notice how it tastes. Is the cup warm? Is the tea minty? How does it feel as it touches your tongue and moves down your throat? Focus on your senses and nothing else. Some people also complete this mindfulness exercise with a piece of food such as a raisin.
When to see a professional?
If you’re struggling to cope, whether it’s as a result of life stressors or a diagnosed mental health condition, never be afraid to reach out for support from a mental health professional. Life gets overwhelming for all of us at times, and everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist at some point in their life. As stated previously, you might come into contact with mindfulness practices in therapy, whether that’s in a one-on-one counseling session or in group therapy. If you find that you’re overwhelmed or think that you might be struggling with symptoms of a mental illness, contact a care provider today. Whether you work with a traditional face-to-face therapist or an online therapist, therapy can help you increase your ability to practice mindfulness. BetterHelp has excellent online therapists who can help you learn the art of mindfulness. Whatever you decide, therapy can be a tool to help you learn to be emotionally aware and learn to sit with your feelings.
Written by Marie Miguel.
Photo by Aleksandr Ledogorov on Unsplash
This is a collaborative post supporting our Peace In Peace Out initiative.