Mindfulness – Are You Being Mindful?
Following on from previous posts where we talked about Stress and Self-Talk, I thought we would delve deeper into our inner thoughts. Walking into a couple of shops for the first time this week since lockdown I noticed my thoughts were nosediving. I was thinking ‘what was the point of looking at new clothes if we weren’t going anywhere’. I certainly wouldn’t be sitting in a pub or restaurant, or going on holiday anytime soon.
Many of us have been keeping ourselves ‘just ticking over’ and keeping negativity at bay. For anyone who suffers or can be triggered into depression or anxiety, it’s been a tough time. Unfortunately, there may still be challenging months ahead with health, work, and our future. Apart from these obvious triggers, it might just be about how we go about our day to day life.
So I thought I would see how we could cope better and look at mindfulness. We can be ‘mindful’ about lots of things in our lives but anxiety & depression are two key areas, as well as focusing on getting things ‘done’ to make our lives much happier and less stressful. These are some of the aspects I came across.
Mindfulness for Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression for many can be disheartening, terrifying, and even debilitating. The symptoms of anxiety can strike at any moment it seems and are usually related to a future event that may or may not happen, but the thought of it happening alone is quite enough to start the downward spiral.
Depression seems to be a slower beast in onset, takes a little longer to combat, and commonly closes in on past events and things and/or situations we regret. In any event, mindfulness for anxiety and depression can significantly reduce the symptoms and potentially slow down the frequency of invasive thought patterns in general.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is all about being in the moment, accepting the moment, and then moving past the moment. Mindfulness helps a person pay closer attention to their internal and external surroundings at any given moment. The very act of focusing on what is happening and how it is affecting them as it happens leaves the conscious mind with less time and space for the anxieties of what may or may not happen, or for dwelling on things in the past.
In it’s most basic form, mindfulness for anxiety and depression is about training your brain to accept what’s happening without complicating the matter by adding forecast or re-hashed imagery. These imaginings and ruminations inevitably will exhaust your mind and body, delay recovery, and invite more frequent outbreaks.
Practical Applications of Mindfulness
Picture the first thing you do when you get up in the morning. Okay, after you hit the snooze four times and thrown the covers back over your head. You’ve probably already started worrying about all the things you’ve got to accomplish today, and if you don’t get them done, you’ve failed. Anxiety starts nearly from the moment you open your eyes.
Mindfulness for anxiety helps us accept the anxiety we’ve dished out to ourselves, and then move past it. Okay, yes, we’ve got a lot on the to-do list, but if we aren’t able to get it all done, there’s always tomorrow. The world won’t end. You aren’t a failure. You’ve already got a frown on your face and your brow is furrowed, heart rate is escalating, and you haven’t even gotten out of bed yet.
- Focus on how good it feels to get that first big morning stretch and how amazing and cool and fresh the carpet feels between your toes.
- Keep going, with positive, mindful thoughts.
- Be aware of what’s going on internally and externally,
- Remember? In this moment. Stay in this moment. Don’t allow anxiety to suck away your time like an aimless vacuum.
- Acknowledge it, accept it, and be mindful in the thoughts after that moment. It takes practice, but it’s worth it!
Mindfulness for depression is a different story, yet similar in tactic. The object is to be purposeful in thought, right? Be mindful. So when you get home in the evening and realise you were only able to check off four of the 10 items on your list of chores for the day, it might be a trigger for depression. You’ve failed, yet again. You can’t get anything right. How will you ever get that list accomplished? One day at a time, that’s how! Just like every other human being!
When you feel depression rearing its ugly head, the first step is always to accept it. Be real with it. Depression is about things in the past, and unless you are a time traveler you can’t change the past. So once you’ve acknowledged that you are in fact depressed about something, get back to the present moment, as quickly as possible.
Practice giving your attention to breathing; shorter breaths in, longer breaths out. Think mindfully about what is happening in this very moment, inside and outside of your body, in place of allowing the depression to monopolize your thought process.
Give mindfulness for anxiety and depression a try. You’ll be surprised by the results! Like most things in life, it’s going to take some practice. Be patient with yourself as you figure out the best methods of mindfulness to help combat your particular levels of anxiety and depression, too.
Being aware of our minute to minute existence will help us learn to control our reactions, which will greatly help in overcoming the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness for Focus
Do you ever feel like you can’t manage to complete a single task without being distracted? Perhaps at work you have been multi-tasking for so long, devoting your undivided attention to a simple mission feels impossible. You’ve got the phone to deal with, other employees interrupting, emails coming in that need your attention, etc.
What about at home when you are cleaning? Have you ever started cleaning the oven and while scrubbing away noticed grease splatter marks on the side of the fridge and headed that way with your scour pad, since you have it out. Then, before you know it you’re in the living room picking up objects off the floor when you notice the dust collecting on that beautiful bookshelf in the corner.
So now you’ve got a dust rag in one hand, an object in the other, the burners off the half-cleaned oven, and one side of the fridge cleaned. All that work and not a darn thing completed! All due to a lack of focus.
Mindfulness Can be Life-changing
Mindfulness seems to be popping up in pretty much every area of life and focus is no different, in fact, focus is key to mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is pulling your attention to the here and now and feeling the moment. Like, really feeling and experiencing.
So, let’s redirect our attention to the task at hand… mindfulness. (How many times have you had to reread that last paragraph because you started thinking of something else?)
Mindfulness for focus could actually change our lives, making day to day tasks easier and increasing our joy of life, by teaching us better experience what we do, rather than mindlessly plodding through.
Lack of focus and awareness is a habit. So is mindfulness. Like all good habits it requires effort and repetition. Again, like any other good habit, it will require conscious application to begin, but will become much easier over time.
Practical Mindfulness Exercises
Let’s look at a couple of exercises. Remember, it takes practice. It doesn’t matter how many exercises you start with, but it does matter that you continue to do them daily. Once you can do these, at will, you will find other, deeper methods, such as full meditation sessions, that will add to mindfulness and make it easier to remain focused in all things.
Do them until you notice your focus is there 100% of the time for each one, and then continue them. Your experience and level of expertise will then spill over into every aspect of your life, like work and home, where you probably have the hardest time focusing.
- Ok, there are a couple of suggestions for how to make breathing a mindful exercise. Turn your focus to your actual breathing. It helps if you set an alarm on your phone or maybe do it on the hour for the even numbers; 2 pm, 4 pm, 6 pm, etc. It only takes a minute or two.
- Just breathe. Don’t do anything else. Feel your breath going in, and feel yourself exhaling. Notice your chest moving when you breathe. If you lose your focus and start thinking about all the splendors of life, pull your thoughts back to your breathing. This one is especially effective if it’s cold outside and you can physically see your breath. Or practice it on a mirror or up against a window.
Sit and Stare
- This one sounds particularly weird, but it works! When you’ve mastered breathing, try going to a public place and stare. Staring means focusing on the object, not simply gazing into space. Sit in a lobby and look across the room at a painting. If you are on a park bench, stare at a tree across the way.
- Maybe even narrow it down to a particular branch or leaf. People are going to pass by but don’t be distracted or look away from your object. Watch how it moves or how it has grooves and lines and curves. Notice the color and how it changes or stays the same. Is it wet or dry or blowing in the wind? Everything about it, notice, and keep your focus. If your mind wanders, gently reel it back in and continue. You’ll be an expert before you know it!
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Other Ideas for Improving Focus Through Mindfulness
There are a number of techniques to help increase our focus using mindfulness. You could listen to a song and pay special attention to the highs and lows, the rhythm, everything about it. You could even make your bed and use that in mindfulness for focus.
Feel the sheets beneath your fingertips; concentrate on how straight you’ve made the mess of covers and how neatly you’ve arranged the pillows. Brushing your teeth? Absolutely be mindful. Pay attention to each tooth as you brush each one completely. Gargle your mouthwash and feel the bubbles and how it feels tingling your throat and super clean mouth.
Mindfulness for focus is endless. It’s impossible to count the ways you can mindfully focus on a single but short task. Before long your tasks will get longer and longer and you’ll be able to regain focus quicker, without judgment. Just awareness that you’ve slipped away and a gentle nudge back to the moment.
We can’t go wrong trying some of these techniques and chances are, we’re going to reap major rewards in working towards a happier life!