When was the last time, you did absolutely nothing, for at least ten minutes?
It’s not easy to keep your mind still, is it? Especially today, when we’re used to processing so much information, all at once.
Here’s the thing; you look after your body- by eating healthy and exercising; you look after your appearance and hygiene- by showering, styling your hair, picking your outfits; you look after your car- by changing your oil, getting it washed. How often do you look after your mind?
Whether you realize it or not, your mind is your most precious resource. It’s where your ideas, feelings and creativity come to life. That’s why you need pamper it, keep it warm, keep it happy.
When anxiety hits…
I’m pretty sure just like me, you all know the feeling of having that little voice in your head that just keeps running and running and running. Picture this. You get up in the morning, and as you’re brushing your teeth you’re already thinking of the next thing you need to get done. Getting your kids ready for school, making breakfast or going for quick walk with your dog. You look at the time and start feeling anxious. Okay I have 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes to go. You get in your car/bus/train and you’re already thinking about all the work waiting for you at the office. You get to the office, and you’re thinking “okay these are the emails I have to answer“, “I have to call this person back“, “I need to get this filed“, “this needs to be completed ASAP“. As you leave work, you’re thinking “okay what’s next? Dinner, kids, laundry, dog, workout, snacks, gotta check my email, too”.
When you finally get to bed, you suddenly remember about something you forgot to do at work, and the anxiety keeps you up all night. Truth is, most of the time, you’re thinking about doing or needing to do something different, from what you’re doing right now, at this moment.
You’re getting yourself worked up and anxious by thinking about the thing you’re feeling anxious about. I mean, this is crazy-talk, hello? Yet we all do it (well, most of us, anyway). All the time. Practicing mindfulness can help you deal with that anxiety. It can bring more awareness of what’s around you and help you notice just how much you’ve been missing out on.
The only way to learn mindfulness is to practice it. Mindfulness is the energy of awareness. Awareness of what’s around you. Sort of like observing yourself, without judgment or criticism. As you practice mindfulness, you start to notice how much you’ve been missing out on. You will also realize that you aren’t as aware as you thought you were.
FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
As you take your morning shower, don’t let your mind race. When you’re getting ready for the day, focus on what you’re doing at this given moment. Feel the warm water on your skin. Smell the soap, feel the silky foam and notice how good it feels against your skin. As the hot water hits your muscles- relax them and release that tension. Brush your teeth slowly. Focus on all your senses. It won’t be easy at first, because your mind is used to rushing all the time. As you practice this every day though, you’ll slowly start noticing yourself feeling more calm- and that, is a superpower. Is there a better way to start the day?
Someone once said: “miracles happen everyday- change your perspective and you’ll see them all around you“. Practicing gratitude can not only help you become more mindful- it can completely change your perspective and outlook on life. You’ll start noticing those small miracles all around you. How does this tie in with mindfulness? When you take time to consider what you’re grateful for, you’re mindfully and actively searching for those things. You can look around the room you’re sitting in right now- what or who do you notice that you feel grateful for? Every morning, take a few minutes to write down 5 things you feel grateful for. Don’t just write them though; try to really feel that gratitude with all your heart. Do this for a week, two, three, until it becomes a daily habit.
At the same time, as you start practicing and exercising mindfulness, you’ll experience increased feelings of gratitude. You’ll notice that when your mind is constantly racing, it often blocks you from seeing and appreciating all that is good in your life.
TURN IT OFF
Anxious mind loves distraction. The main reason for this, is to escape the suffering. Turn off your TV, phone, put your laptop away and spend five minutes in complete stillness and silence. At first, this can feel very uncomfortable. Um.. okay, this is weird. It’s too quiet. I don’t like it. And then your mind might start to wander. Eventually, you might end up thinking about something you’ve been dreading, something that’s been bothering or annoying you for a while. Let that thought be. Recognize it as just that- a thought. It’s sort of like removing yourself from your mind and observing your thoughts- without judgment. Then, allow that thought to pass.
As you practice taking that 3rd person perspective, you will be able to recognize those anxious thoughts and emotions, without the need to react or suffer from them. You’ll learn to detach yourself from those situations or emotions- therefore they won’t have that control over you. You’ll be able to move on, and will no longer identify with that pain.
This is something that I personally still struggle with, at times, but keep getting better at it, with more practice. For a very long time, I had an unhealthy relationship with food. It wasn’t that I was eating bad food. Instead, I’d either not eat anything at all for long periods of time, or I’d just eat mindlessly. I wouldn’t stop after feeling full- it’d just keep eating. You know when you’re eating a meal that’s so good, you don’t want to stop eating even though your stomach already hurts? Yeah, that’s the kind of mindless eating I’m talking about (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about- bless you! you’re a much better person than I am :) ) I was always a healthy eater, so I thought well, what I’m eating IS super healthy, so I can totally finish this entire plate. I’ve never paid attention when I ate. I could spend 3 hours cooking a fabulous meal, only to inhale it 3 minutes, in front of TV, while answering emails.
When I slowly made (or, I’m still making since this is a progress for me) this change, a few things happened. One, I only eat when I’m hungry- not when I’m bored or because it’s the weekend, or because I’m watching a movie and need something to keep my hands busy. Two, I actually enjoy my food. I can make out different flavors, textures and really appreciate them. Three, I no longer overeat when I do go out to dinner with friends or family. Just like with the gratitude practice, this goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness. Because I take time to enjoy my meal, I try not to eat while also scrolling through Instagram or answering my emails. So, the more I practice mindful eating, the more I learn to practice being mindful, being present. Enjoying the moment.
DON’T MAKE IT OUT TO BE A CHORE
Now that you’re ready to start using these exercises to practice mindfulness you have to keep this in mind: you can’t make it out to be a chore. Don’t be too focused on the outcome. The main goal here is to improve your life, reduce your suffering* and ease your anxious mind. This comes with practice. We aren’t really fully conscious as we go about our day. Once you begin to practice that awareness, it might feel slightly uncomfortable- that’s because you’re used to being distracted all the time.
Eventually, as you practice mindfulness, every day, you will see that you no longer have to suffer from that worry, overwhelm or anxiety. When negative things happen throughout your day- like someone being rude to you, someone cutting you off on the road- you’ll be able to feel yourself get angry, but being aware will give you some room to have a different reaction to those situations. You will be able to chose to be a different person. You won’t judge, and let it pass.
*when I say “suffering” I mean the pain that comes from feeling anxious, overwhelmed and worried all the time