Article prepared: 3 November 2016
The strategy to regain our connection to the present, is the practice of Mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on maintaining awareness of your thoughts and inner self-talk, the way you feel, bodily sensations and what is happening around you.
Unlike what popular culture has made it out to be, mindfulness is not simply relaxing and staying in a state of Zen. Instead, mindfulness is a practice where people can learn to:
- focus on the present moment;
- improve their attentional skills; and
- accept their thoughts and feelings without judgement (for example, if you feel frustrated, accept that you are frustrated but do so without judgement).
Mindfulness allows us to move from living on constant automatic pilot mode, to pausing and observing what is happening in the here and now. Learning to experience a mindful state requires time and effort to achieve. That being said, the amount of effort required is insignificant when compared to the plethora of potential benefits that mindfulness can provide.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness practices have been associated with a number of different benefits. Here is just a small sample of the positive outcomes associated with mindfulness.
- Mindfulness has been shown to improve emotional regulation through decreasing rumination and improving attentional awareness (Davis & Hayes, 2011). Those who practice mindfulness also experience increased levels of empathy and compassion towards others.
- Mindfulness has an association with improved mental health through reductions in anxiety, stress and depression (Schreiner & Malcolm, 2008).
- Mindfulness has been found to improve interpersonal relationships through helping to protect against stressful relationship issues, improve one’s ability to express themselves and to improve overall relationship satisfaction (Davis & Hayes, 2011).
- Mindfulness training in the workplace contributes to a reduction in emotional exhaustion and has also been found to improve job satisfaction (Hülsheger, Alberts, Feinholdt & Lang, 2013).
The good news is that mindfulness can be practiced almost anywhere, which means there are many opportunities to practice in your day. From walking to the shops, eating a meal at home or even having a shower; each can be turned into a mindfulness experience to help you bring yourself into the here and now. One of the most common exercises to begin practicing mindfulness is through breathing awareness. Read the instructions below and give it a go.
- Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down on your bed.
- Close your eyes and begin to focus on your breathing. Try to focus on all the sensations you experience when you breathe that you may not notice normally.
- Take a breath through your nose, and notice whether the air is cool or warm.
- As you exhale through your mouth, also notice whether the air is cool or warm as it leaves your body.
- As you continue to breathe in this way focus on the sounds in the room. Concentrate on the sounds most distant to you. Then refocus on the sounds closest to you, such as your breathing, and then finally your heat beat.
- After you feel that you have achieved a mindful state remember to reflect on the experience before continuing on with your day. Slowly become aware of your surroundings before opening your eyes and taking in what is around you.
- During this exercise if you became distracted or if your mind wanders, accept that you did non-judgementally, and ease yourself back into focusing on your breath.
Many people give up after getting distracted and do not realise that the very fact that they recognised they were distracted is being extremely mindful of what your thoughts are. Each time you recognise a distraction and bring focus back to breathing you are essentially exercising a muscle that will make entering a mindful state easier in the future.
Mindfulness is not the panacea to all of life’s concerns and issues, but with so many competing demands on us, it is a gentle reminder to stop and pay attention to the here and now.
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198-208. doi: 10.1037/a0022062
Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. J., Feinholdt, A., & Lang, J. W. (2013). Benefits of mindfulness at work: the role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology,98(2), 310-325. doi: 10.1037/a0031313
Schreiner, I., & Malcolm, J. P. (2008). The benefits of mindfulness meditation: Changes in emotional states of depression, anxiety, and stress. Behaviour Change, 25(03), 156-168. doi: 10.1375/bech.25.3.156