If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, mindfulness can help.
When integrated into your daily routine, these practices are a source of wellbeing.
Many of us are beset by a multitude of obligations, to the point we revert to autopilot as a survival mechanism.
Using ancient techniques and modern psychological research, mindfulness can help us relax and enter a joyful daily state.
The Mindful Day summary, based on a book by Laurie J. Cameron, covers:
- Our morning routine
- Professional relationships
- Leisure time
Mental fitness is just as important as physical fitness.
Mindfulness = the awareness of focusing attention:
- Our inner sensations (e.g. emotions)
- Our immediate environment
Normally we tend to:
- Make snap judgments
- Self castigate
- Try to control our existence
Mindfulness allows us to transform our mindset to:
- Be open minded
- Be accepting
- Be open to change
According to research, we only spend 53% of our time in the present.
Why? Because we’re still hindered by our evolutionary biology, which was designed to anticipate threats and keep us safe.
So rather than enjoying the present, we were always on high alert.
In today’s world of our mental alarm systems are overloaded by the incessant stream of information, distractions and threats.
Rather than defaulting to the past or future, mindfulness can help us appreciate the present moment.
These practices will help promote:
1. Mindful breathing – this is the go-to exercise when life becomes overwhelming and distracting. Simply stop what you’re doing and redirect attention to the sensation of your breath as it moves in and out of your nose and you feel your chest rising and falling.
2. Body scan – after focusing on the breath, progress to the body scan. Start by focusing your attention on your feet and slowly move up your body until you reach the top of your head. Experience any physical sensations, like temperature, tingling or pain. Do you notice associated emotions, such as a clenched stomach in response to worry? This can provide insight in accurately identifying our emotions and common reactions, with the predictive power permitting more meaningful choices in life.
3. Loving-kindness – imagine someone you know wishing you well and reciprocate their intention. Wish them happiness, peace and love, before finishing the exercise wishing these things for yourself. Studies show that this type of meditation increases compassion for ourselves and others.
4. Use the STOP acronym:
- S = Stop – in any challenging situation it’s important to stop and step back to give our emotions space.
- T = Take a breath – provides a calming force and brings our attention back to the present moment.
- O = Observe your direct experience – Notice how you’re feeling, including sensations, thoughts and emotions.
- P = Proceed with kindness – How can you nurture yourself? Can you reach out to a friend or go for a walk?
Mornings can be particularly anxiety-inducing as we imagine our impending obligations even before we’ve got out of bed.
But there’s a better way, achieved through gratitude and meditation.
Rather than dwelling on outstanding to-do list items, it’s far more effective to first focus on gratitude for a few minutes in bed, including anything from friends and family to waking for another day.
Studies have shown gratitude boosts mental wellbeing. It can also improve productivity, by making us more alert and energised.
And even if you feel time constricted, there’s good news, with research demonstrating that gratitude is more effective when performed once a week vs once a day.
So what are you thankful for?
The rest of the week, you can focus on a short 10-minute meditation session to reduce anxiety and regulate your emotions.
Meditation need not be daunting – even if you’re lost in thought for most of the session, every time your mind wanders and you bring it back to the present, you’re improving self awareness.
It’s especially common for our mind and attention to drift during conversations, where we’re not fully engaged in what another person is saying.
Fortunately, mindfulness can help us become better communicators.
With mindfulness, each time your mind wanders, you bring your attention back to the contents of the conversation. Simply listen and refrain from interjecting with your own opinion.
A common pitfall during conversations is expecting what someone will say next, instead of listening to what they’re truly saying.
Mindful listening means listening to the actual contents of their message.
This skill can be developed by repeating back what has been said, which will help clarify their points.
Non-verbal communication, such as email, can also benefit from mindfulness.
We’ve all received upsetting or challenging emails from coworkers, where the immediate reaction is to get defensive or angry. Instead:
- Pause before responding
- Imagine the other email sender – they too have hopes, worries and needs
- Put yourself in their situation and ask yourself what they might need from you
- Reply with openness and compassion in an attempt to foster collaboration
Indeed, research has found that greater workplace compassion can:
- Reduce staff turnover
- Improve collaboration
- Increase employee commitment to the organisation
As children, we were leisure experts, making the most of our free time.
As adults, it’s more challenging and we often revert to spending time on the sofa, scrolling through social media.
Leisure time is an essential resource, vital for rejuvenation, and shouldn’t be wasted.
Maximising our time can be as simple as going for a mindful walk. While your thoughts may wander, try to bring attention back to:
- Focus on the feelings of your body – e.g. your feet striking the ground
- Your surroundings
Just like resting our physical body when we’ve been active, so too our brains require regular time off.
Research shows that our pre-frontal cortex, the area responsible for planning and decision-making, is less active when walking.
It’s also been demonstrated that nature walks are more effective than urban strolls for health and wellbeing.
Pro tip: If you’ve got children, include them in the mindful walk. Studies now demonstrate that the quality of time you spend with children is more important than the quantity. Mindful walking encourages undivided attention while appreciating the wonders of nature together.
This type of meditation helps to show our loved ones that we care.
Try welcoming your partner home with a hug.
1. Meet their eyes and welcome them home
2. Take a breath and fully immerse yourselves in the moment
3. Embrace each other for three full breaths:
- First breath – become aware your happiness and presence
- Second breath – expand your awareness to your partner and intuit the same feelings in them
- Third breath – experience the joy and gratitude of being together
Hugging has numerous benefits:
- It can improve connection by stimulating release of oxytocin, the ‘love hormone’
- Studies show that it can reduce blood pressure (when women frequently embrace their partners)
Why is it so good?
- It activates the ‘insula’, part of the brain which processes emotions. Therefore, if you’re partner feels stressed, relax them with a hug.
It’s ironic that we often crave time off but when we have it we can’t stop thinking of work and other obligations.
Mindfulness, especially when baked into an evening ritual, can make us feel truly at home.
- When you get home, speak the intention: ‘As I walk into my home, I am present, calm and at peace’.
- Crossing the threshold, take three mindful breaths and ask three questions: ‘ What are my thoughts at this moment? What sensations am I feeling? What emotions are here with me?’
- If you’ve had a stressful day, don’t ignore the pain, but gently focus your attention on it before cultivating kind and loving wishes for yourself. If this is hard, imagine what you would say to a friend and repeat this message.
- Focus on something positive like cooking, where you can engage in mindful practices as you engage each of your senses.
- As you eat, savour the meal and be grateful for everything that made it possible, giving thanks to life.
The Mindful Day summary
- We spend so much time worrying about the future or dwelling on the past
- Mindfulness helps us find a way back to the simple joy of the present moment
- It can reduce stress and anxiety in a world which routines overwhelms our senses with threats and distractions
- It can make us more open-minded, accepting and compassionate.
- Mindful breathing, body scan, loving-kindness and STOP practices are all effective mindfulness techniques.
- Morning routines, including gratitude and a meditation session, are a great way to start the day.
- Mindful listening can improve communication and collaboration.
- It’s essential to make the most of our leisure time and use it as a source to recharge. Going for a mindful nature walk has been shown to help.
- Mindful hugging can reduce stress and improve our relationships.
- A mindful, evening routine helps us truly come home.