Mindfulness is a hot topic in the mental wellness space, but what is mindfulness? Learning to live in the moment can be difficult when you struggle with mental illness. Anxiety tends to keep the mind in the future, worrying about what’s to come. On the other hand, depression tends to keep the mind in the past, with no regard for the present moment and no hope for what comes next.
Taking a mindful approach to life and mental health can help you stay present and enjoy life to the fullest. Find out how to practice mindfulness techniques, their benefits and common misconceptions.
What Is Mindfulness?
How do you define mindfulness? Around 14% of Americans meditate, but many have never heard the term mindfulness. The definition of mindfulness in the mental health space is a mental state obtained through awareness of the present moment. To be mindful, you must acknowledge your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and surroundings in a calm, peaceful way.
The goal of mindfulness in mental health is to get you out of your head and engage with the world around you. Many therapists help clients develop mindfulness as a tool for combating anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and other disorders. Mindfulness techniques are strategic exercises that can be practiced anytime, anywhere as a way to stop focusing on negative, intrusive thoughts and achieve a state of calm by appreciating the world around you.
Indicators You Should Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness isn’t just a tool for individuals with a diagnosed mental health disorder. Everyone can benefit from learning about this practice and finding ways to implement it in their daily life. Here are some signs that you should be practicing mindfulness techniques:
- You feel guilty if you’re not busy. If you feel like you constantly need to be busy or productive, otherwise you’re wasting time, it’s likely a sign that you should slow down and give your mind a break. North American “hustle culture” creates the sense that to be successful, we must be busy constantly. This can result of feelings of stress, anxiety, guilt or self-loathing when taking a well-deserved break. Practicing mindfulness can help you appreciate quiet moments and enjoy rest.
- You worry or focus obsessively on the future. An inability to live in the present because you’re worrying about what comes next is a good indicator that you would benefit from mindfulness. Tuning into your immediate surroundings can help get you out of your head and ease anxiety about the future.
- You can’t seem to enjoy positive experiences: If you struggle with anxiety, depression, OCD or other mental health disorders, you may find that experiences that are meant to be pleasant become stressful. To better appreciate moments in life, mindfulness exercises are a useful tool.
- You frequently dwell on past events: Feeling like your mind is stuck in the past reliving negative experiences over and over again is a common symptom of many disorders, including PTSD. Mindfulness is one tool for trying to break the negative thought cycle.
How to Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Life
There are plenty of mindfulness techniques that therapists teach clients as tools for staying present in everyday life. One poll found that 87% of therapists use mindfulness with their clients. Here are some of the top exercises to implement to incorporate mindfulness into your routine.
The three senses exercise is a guaranteed way to get out of your head and into the present moment. The exercise requires you to focus on three of your senses. Start by thinking of three things you can see. Once you identify these sights, close your eyes and think of three things you can hear. Allow yourself to focus on each sound for at least 5-10 seconds.
Then, think of three things you can touch or feel. This could be your feet on the ground, a couch you’re sitting on or the warm breath of your loved one sleeping beside you in bed. Tune in to the reality around you to break the cycle of thoughts in your mind.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This mindfulness technique uses your physical body to take the focus off of your thoughts and center them in reality. You start by tensing your entire body, contracting all muscles so they feel tight. Being in your toes and feet and consciously relax those muscles. Slowly move up the legs, relaxing your calf muscles, thighs, abdominal muscles, jaw and hands. As you force the muscles to relax, your mind relaxes with it.
A breathing exercise is useful for mindfulness when you need to immediately calm yourself. For example, if you suffer from panic disorder or anxiety attacks, having a go-to breathing exercise that you can start when you feel an attack coming on is an excellent tool. There are many varieties of mindful breathing exercises, but one that helps regulate the breath is to place your index finger on one nostril, closing it off.
Breath in deeply through the open nostril, and exhale slowly through the same nostril. Following your exhale, remove your finger from the side of your nose and place your other index finger over the other nostril, closing it off. Alternate between nostrils, so each inhale and exhale comes from one side and then the other. The rhythm of your breathing will be regulated by this action and your mind has to focus on the exercise, allowing you to slow your heart rate, breath and mind.
What Are The Benefits of Mindfulness?
There are many benefits to mindfulness practices, including:
- Improved mental health
- Lower levels of stress
- Ability to enjoy the present moment
- Improved physical health
- Greater level of control over your mental state
Myths and Misconceptions About Mindfulness
These are some of the most common misconceptions about mindfulness:
- Mindfulness means having no thoughts
- Mindfulness requires you to rest
- Mindfulness must be constant to be successful
These ideas about mindfulness are not accurate. Mindfulness doesn’t require an absence of thought but rather a lack of resistance to your thoughts. The goal of mindfulness is to be intentional with your thoughts and break the cycle of intrusive or negative thoughts. Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere at anytime, including at your desk while at work or on the bus on the way home from grocery shopping.
Mindfulness is a tool to use when you need it most; it’s impossible to be mindful 24/7, and it’s unhealthy to put a pressure on yourself to achieve this. Simply celebrate small milestones when you engage with the world around you successfully whether that’s for a minute or an hour.
Practice Mindfulness With Us
At FHE Health in South Florida, our counselors can suggest mindfulness techniques as part of your therapy programs. We offer inpatient and outpatient care options for individuals living with anxiety, depression, PTSD, addiction and more. Contact us today to determine which course of treatment is right for you.