Reducing Stress with Mindfulness
Written by: Kasey Mitchell, MSW, LCSW
What Does It Mean to Be Mindful?
Mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment – of focusing completely on the task or moment at hand. This means paying attention to where we are, what we’re doing and not reacting to what’s going on around us.
Great, but What Does That Actually Mean?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that teaches us to create a break between our thoughts and our responses. This allows us to examine our automatic reactions (ones we do without giving much thought to) vs. alternative reactions (perhaps how we would like to handle or react to a given situation) as well as our emotions. Think of mindfulness as a pause in our busy, hectic lives that allows us the opportunity to be more conscious of the decisions we’re making and the way we’re feeling throughout the day.
What Are the Benefits of Practicing Mindfulness?
- Decreasing Stress/Anxiety: Mindfulness can help us change the way we react to stressors.
- Decreasing Depression: Mindfulness makes us more aware of and in tune with our feelings and can help us identify negative thoughts.
- Increased Self-Compassion: Mindfulness can help us be kinder to ourselves, more forgiving and can help us to feel more confident in ourselves.
- Increased Cognitive Functioning: Taking just a few moments to do a mindfulness activity can increase your working memory, processing and functioning and can reduce mental fatigue.
- Decreased Distractions: It can help us reduce distractions and increase our ability to concentrate.
How Can I Practice Mindfulness?
- Set Aside 5 or 10 Minutes: Find a quiet area free of distraction.
- Observe the Present Moment: This doesn’t mean zoning out and having zero thoughts, but rather pay attention to the present without judgment.
- No Judgments: If a judgment comes up, make note of it and let it pass.
- Return to the Present Moment: When first practicing mindfulness, you’ll most likely get carried away by thoughts, make attempts to return to the present moment and what’s happening right now.
- Be Kind: If your mind wanders, don’t judge yourself. Just practice returning to the present moment.
Example of Mindfulness Activities:
- Think About a Peaceful Place: The beach, grandma’s house, a thunderstorm etc. Identify what you see, smell, hear and feel when in that space.
- Eat Your Favorite Food/Snack: Imagine having to describe it to someone who had never eaten it before. What details would you give them to describe it?
- Listen to Music: Just listen, shut out external noises. Notice and just be aware. How does the music make you feel
(mood) or feel in your body, does it bring up any memories of the past? Just notice what comes up and without judgment. Following the exercise, reflect on your thoughts.
Mindfulness takes practice, but anyone can do a mindfulness exercise – there is NO WAY to fail at mindfulness skills.
Need some help getting started? Try one of the many mindfulness apps which will guide you through various exercises. One of my favorites is called “Stop, Breathe, Think” which can be found online here: https://app.stopbreathethink.org/