How much time do you spend in the present moment? If you’re like most people, you might find your mind wandering into the future worrying about things that might happen. Or you might find your mind stuck in the past, caught up in memories or things you could have done differently.
What happens when you are spending so much of your life ‘time travelling’ in this way?
- You might feel a bit lost
- You can feel disconnected from your relationships
- You might put your happiness on hold until certain milestones are reached, like losing the weight or getting the promotion
- You’re not really living your life as it is right now
Mindfulness acts as an anchor that pulls you into the present when you start to get caught up in thoughts, emotions or unhelpful behaviours. It helps you observe what you are doing, rather than getting caught up in autopilot. The more you can do this, the more choice you have over how you react to situations.
You might be thinking ‘“But I’m in a lot of pain and feeling unhappy, why would I want to be in the present when it all feels so hard?” It’s really normal to think this way. But staying in the past or future just adds unnecessary pain to the present moment. Mindfulness helps you to simplify.
How to be Mindful
There are different ways to practice mindfulness:
An informal mindfulness practice is bringing mindfulness into the things you do every day by using all your senses. For example, when you go for a walk, you can notice the colour of the sky, the sounds of the leaves under your feet, and the feel of the breeze on your face. It helps you get out of your head and appreciate what is in front of you.
Some other places you might practice informal mindfulness are:
- In your morning routine, when washing your face, brushing your teeth, or eating breakfast ,when doing household chores like vacuuming, tidying up or washing the dishes. When you do tasks like this, really feel the sensation of water on your hands or the movement of the vacuum (for example, feel the sensations of hot water on your hands!)
- During fun activities like playing with the kids or walking the dog
- During your work day: sitting at your desk, walking around your workplace or talking to your colleagues
- In transit: driving your car, on the bus or train. Notice the sights, sounds and smells and the feel of the seat.
The list of places you can practice informal mindfulness is endless.
Formal mindfulness requires you to create the time and space to participate in a dedicated mindfulness activity. This could be an app on your phone with a guided mindfulness practice, attending a mindfulness group or taking yourself through a mindfulness exercise.
These formal mindfulness activities have been found to strengthen the rational, problem solving parts of your brain, helping to manage intense emotional reactions. It can also help you to become less judgmental and increase self-awareness.
Mindfulness in action
Acceptance is a key part of mindfulness. While you don’t have to like the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing, if you can accept your experience you’ll have control over how you respond.
Think about how you might react to having a broken foot. You could get angry and focus on wishing that your foot wasn’t broken. It might feel better for a little while to do this, but it won’t mean your foot isn’t broken or in pain. Added to this, you will feel tense, exhausted and upset from wishing things were different.
However, if you accept that your foot is broken, you make some room for yourself to respond helpfully. You could structure your day so you have less time on your feet and more time to rest and recover. You could ask some friends for help and make decisions from a less reactive place.
Emotional pain is a lot like physical pain. You might beat yourself up for feeling a certain way. Or you can make it easier on yourself and accept that the emotion is there, understand it a bit better and decide what you want to do. You have the choice.
The great thing is, emotions will often become less intense when you can just stop and observe them being there. This article has more information for how to do this:
One of the side effects of mindfulness is that it can make some people feel less stressed, and help with clearer thinking. The following is a really simple exercise you can do anywhere, anytime. You simply use your breath as an anchor to bring you back from getting caught up in unhelpful thoughts and feelings.
Do you ever find yourself going from 0-100, feeling emotions intensely or losing control over what you are saying or doing? This might happen because something has triggered you. Or you might not have known that you had certain emotions simmering for a long time.
Getting a good understanding of what is happening in your body can help you to identify what you are experiencing before it gets to the point where you feel out of control. This body scan exercise will assist you to build an awareness of what you are feeling:
When I get stressed sometimes I space out
Sometimes when people are really stressed, overwhelmed or anxious, they might feel:
- Like they are watching things in fast or slow motion
- 'Spaced out’
- That voices of people around them seem far away
- That they are watching things happen from outside their body
- That the environment seems unreal in some way
This can happen when things overwhelm a person’s capacity to cope. It is the body’s way of trying to protect you from things that feel too intense or threatening.
This exercise can help to bring you back into the present and feel a bit more in control. The more you practice, the easier it will become. It can also work well if you need to calm down and settle yourself.