Mindfulness is an ancient practice that creates a “WAY of BEING in the World”; it just so happens to have become popularized as a stress management strategy that involves focusing your mind on the present moment.
Through regular practice of mindfulness, you can bring greater awareness to your thoughts and actions as a means of thinking and living more in the present and avoiding jumping back and forth between past and future. Thoughts of depression tend to be related to dwelling in the past and anxious/worry thoughts tend to be related to a future orientation.
The regular practice of mindfulness is a method of self-care that has the effect of slowing down and calming the mind, by “letting go” of self-judgment and judgment of circumstances and people, resulting in greater ease.
Let’s begin with what has been referred to as, “Beginner’s Mind”…
- Simply sit in a chair, NOTICE your breathing and focus the mind on the “Outbreath” and quiet the thought processes.
- When thinking happens, label it as “thinking” and return the attention to the “Outbreath” over and over.
Mindfulness is a skill that you can take with you wherever you go and put to use at work, traveling, or in difficult circumstances. It is an effective tool for people who may have difficulty falling asleep due to changes in work schedules. It is an overall stress relieving method that has no ill side effects. Aspects of it can be taught in a matter of minutes, while the benefits to health and well-being accumulate over time with ongoing practice.
It is flourishing as a modern antidote to stress, and has been adapted by the field of psychology as a calming exercise, but comes to us through the work and thinking of ancient spiritual practices. It is here for all human beings as a means of self-care for the WHOLE PERSON—Body, Mind, and Spirit. If we slow down within and spend some time with ourselves, then the experience of time lengthens and energy expands. The things we say we do not have enough of— time and energy— can then grow. The deeper within we learn to go, brings us more of what we are looking for—a connection with self and greater health, happiness and peace of mind.
Research suggests that mindfulness meditation may improve mood, decrease stress, and boost immune function. Mindfulness has been clinically shown to be effective for the management of stress, anxiety and panic, chronic pain, depression, obsessive thinking, strong emotional reactivity, and a wide array of medical and mental health related conditions. It is especially applicable as a self-care technique for caregivers and health care practitioners who face daily demands on physical, emotional and relational energy.
The practice of mindfulness can have a very positive influence as demonstrated through improved concentration and productivity, resulting in a more harmonious environment both at home and in the workplace. Mindfulness can be taught individually or in a group setting. The mind is like a little puppy dog with endless energy, jumping all over the place; it requires training to still itself and observe itself. This takes repeated practice of some very simple exercises or commands.
With regular practice, you can put it to use in dealing with difficult personalities and/or emotionally-laden stressful situations.
Evelyn Smith, MA LCMHC, CTTS-M, is an EFAP Counselor & Tobacco Treatment Specialist at the University of Vermont Medical Center.