Clients often tell me that meditation is difficult for them, unhelpful to manage their stress, or they just plain feel awkward implementing it. They say, “I tried meditation when I felt angry, sad, or anxious, but it didn’t work.” This is where mindfulness can be effective to help manage daily stress and improve mental health symptoms as part of one’s daily routine. Mindfulness is a skill that helps us to increase a level of awareness about our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations to help and the situations we are currently experiencing.
The key to practicing mindfulness and seeing the benefits of stress management is just that – through regular and consistent practice. I tell my clients the most effective way to reduce ruminating thoughts contributing to depression and anxiety symptoms is to incorporate mindfulness (among other skills) into daily routines. It is not a quick fix and it takes intent to improve stress management in the long run.
How do I do this? Well, first, it’s understanding what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is a skill developed in the Western world based upon meditation that has been proven through research to be effective in Eastern practices to help alleviate stress and chronic conditions. Mindfulness is intentional, focusing on the present moment, and practiced without judgement. We don’t judge the situation, our environment, our thoughts, or our feelings. We just notice and observe. Allow our thoughts to pass.
Tips and strategies to incorporate mindfulness into your daily routine:
- Take a mindful walk and notice your surroundings using your 5 senses. What color are the trees in the neighborhood? What sounds do you hear such as cars driving by or leaves blowing in the wind?
- Sit down and eat a snack or meal. Notice how your food looks, how it smells, how it tastes. What’s the texture? Is it sweet or salty? How do you feel?
- Sit or lie down and practice deep breathing. Notice how your breath feels entering in and out of your lungs. Count your breath in and count your breath out for the same length. 1-2-3-4 in, 1-2-3-4 out.
- Take a quick body scan of your physical sensations from head to toe. What do you notice? Any tension or body aches?
In the book The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007) by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, they have 5 steps for practicing mindfulness throughout the day:
- When possible, do just one thing at a time.
- Pay full attention to what you are doing.
- When the mind wanders from what you are doing, bring it back.
- Repeat step number three several billion times.
- Investigate your distractions.
I encourage you to try some of these techniques and I always encourage my clients to be creative with how to incorporate mindfulness to be present in daily moments. It’s the little intentions daily that add up to help us strengthen our ability to manage the bigger stressors. Parents can practice with their kids and incorporate into family activities. Blow bubbles and describe what you observe and how you feel. Play with play doh and describe using 5 senses (no eating even though it is non-toxic!)
Have fun with mindfulness and most importantly, be present.