How to Make Mindfulness a Part of Every Day
Earlier this week, we recognized World Mental Health Day. Events like this are wonderful ways to coalesce our collective attention on an issue. Unfortunately, all too often, we stop, pause, and then move on to the next thing.
Mental health awareness is clearly on the rise. The conversations we have today are far different than was was happening even a decade ago. Stigma has been lessened (but not eradicated), understanding has been increased (though there are still some myths and misconceptions floating around out there), and seeking treatment isn’t seen as a weakness, but rather a strength.
Much of the conversation around mental health is reactive. We’re very good at talking about what to do after a challenge has been identified or in a crisis situation. What’s not as common is talking about preventative steps and day-to-day management.
I’ve found that mindfulness techniques play a huge part in my overall well-being, job satisfaction, and enjoyment of life. The old adage states that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure -- and, with that in mind, I wanted to share some mindfulness thoughts and techniques that can help ensure we make every day about self-care and mental health.
So why listen to me? I’ve been invested in the practice of mindfulness for the majority of my life. I was 10 or 11 when I first starting practicing mindfulness techniques, as a result of experiencing some emotions I couldn’t fully process or understand.
The reason I’m telling you this is because if I didn’t learn how to manage my thoughts and emotions through practicing mindfulness, I would have a much harder time working hard or developing strong relationships. Because of this, I find that I can bounce back from hard situations quicker, go into difficult conversations with a more open mind, and promote the kind of reaction and empathy I would want others to give me.
Many of us have meetings, client calls, mountains of emails, extracurricular activities, volunteer opportunities, family commitments, and other events that demand our attention at all hours. Creating pockets in your day to be fully present and apply a principle of mindfulness is beneficial for a number of reasons. It improves focus, memory, healing time, and resilience. It supports immune health, lessens insecurity, and increases emotional intelligence.
Mindfulness typically involves pausing in some fashion to notice thoughts and sensations. It’s about being able to step back and be present in your thoughts and feelings with a relaxed mind, as opposed to stopping all of your thoughts and getting rid of all of your emotions.
Everyone has mental health, feelings, reactions, and stress levels that they may be interested in reviewing, especially at work where we spend a third or more of our time.
So what’s in my Mindfulness Toolbox?
Full of a high emotion (anger, nerves, etc.)? It’s likely your brain and nervous systems are begging for air. Pausing and breathing before reacting tends to diffuse tension you might be holding, can invite more constructive solutions, and, in general, produce better outcomes. Before reacting to something that may have stimulated a feeling in me, I always try to take a step back and literally catch my breath.
A big practice I use is four-cycle breaths. I have a post-it of this on my desk.
- Take a second to focus on nothing but your breathing - it may help to focus on something you can feel, e.g. releasing the tension you might be holding in your shoulders, face, tongue, etc. You can close your eyes or stare at something in front of you and focus on each inhale and exhale;
- Turn your attention to your in-breath and out-breath and follow the length of each in-breath and out-breath from beginning to end. I like to count to four - four in breath, hold it for a four count, then four outbreath, as many times as i need to.
Your concentration may be broken from time to time and that's OK! It feels much better to re-center and refocus before reacting to a situation or using it as a tool to bring my focus back in place. I also am able to be more productive and creative in my problem solving during this time.
Responding to your physical surroundings
When you have a break, try to do something that will get you up and experiencing a different sensation. This is particularly important if you are switching from one large task to another, as you can return feeling refreshed and more prepared to tackle a new challenge or focus.
- Go for a short walk - even if it’s to another floor and back up
- Stand in some sun - like a cat, you’ll love it.
- Drink a glass of water - like, the full thing - or make a hot tea.
- Go to a gym, do some yoga, get active.
Create your day
Make a conscious decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind. An intention can be as simple as closing your eyes and repeating to yourself “This is going to be a great day” or “I’m grateful for today and what I’m going to learn” Those are my go to.
Positively setting an intention has the ability to change your outlook on how the day will turn out. And when your day ends, make a point to leave work at work.
Connect with others
If you are someone who feels energized and motivated after chatting with friends, make sure you’re spending time connecting throughout your day in a meaningful way.
If you’re not particularly extroverted, a great way to connect is to purposefully and wholeheartedly show appreciation for your teammates. We’re literally all in this together. Extending gratitude feels just as good as receiving kudos.
And make sure you communicate mindfully. When listening, really listen -- be fully present. Avoiding scanning Slack or reading email. Try not judge their words -- simply listen to everything they have to say first and let it sink in before chiming in. And become aware of the effect of your words. What you say has impact, and it’s important to be responsible for that.
Use an app
I have used apps like Headspace and Calm for a few years. They are essentially guided meditation resources. These are great to do when sitting on the bus, for five minutes during lunch, or even at night to help shake off the day/in the morning to start fresh.
Be Consistent, and Forgiving
Change can be difficult and integrating a new element into your routine takes effort. The most important part of making something into a habit is doing it consistently - start with what you are willing to do to establish a routine.
Set reminders -- use your phone calendar, use sticky notes (I have them all over my desk) -- use something that’s going to prompt you to take action. And, most importantly, be willing to forgive yourself. If your mind wanders, that’s normal. If you forget to do something, that’s fine. And if you react strongly, it’s OK -- that attitude of wanting to begin is what’s important.
Don’t let “perfect” get in the way of doing better. In the end, that’s all we’re asking of ourselves -- to be better, be more present, and be more aware of our thoughts and emotions. And by making this a priority every day, it can help us deal with the challenges we’re inevitably going to face.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on mindfulness and how you incorporate self-care into your daily lives. Feel free to comment below!