Picture this: You’re driving home from work in heavy traffic and your mind is scattered—thinking about what to make for dinner, reliving parts of your day at work and mentally listing off a to-do list for tomorrow. Plus, you need to make a quick call and, oh, you forgot you need to pick up your dry cleaning before they close in 10 minutes!
Sound familiar? The reality is that many Americans live their day-to-day lives in a state of distraction and stress. How many times have you felt like you were anywhere but present?
A way to decrease day-to-day stresses is mindfulness practice. This ancient practice dates back to Buddha and is one of his seven factors of enlightenment. (Remember, it’s called practice for a reason—you don’t have to be perfect at it!) Meaning “awareness,” mindfulness is defined by Dr. Alan Marlatt and Dr. Jean L. Kristeller as, “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience in a moment-to-moment basis.” Try these tips for incorporating some mindful behavior in your life—and see if you notice a difference in your stress levels.
Four Simple Mindfulness Tips:
Leave work behind: Instead of spending Sunday (or even a weekday evening at home) thinking of what will need to be done Monday, write a to-do list at the end of each day or workweek. Make a pledge to bring your focus back to the present every time your mind wanders to these future tasks and remind yourself that you can come back to your to-do list in the morning.
Smell the roses: When doing a chore—especially one you don’t like—there’s a tendency to hurry through it and allow your mind to focus on anything else as a distraction. Instead, try to clear your mind by paying attention to the little things as you do them. For example, if you’re washing dishes, think about how the warm water feels on your skin or breathe in and notice the scent from the soap. You’ll notice you feel more relaxed when you’re not rushing through a task and you’ll probably find that it’s over before you know it.
Break your cyclical thinking: After a fight or a misunderstanding, it’s easy to remain fixated on the problem and commence cyclical thinking over what just happened—but this only causes more angst and unrest. To change your thinking and leave the argument in the past, stop right where you are—and take a good look around. Take in the sights, sounds and smells around you. Pick out three things you appreciate and then focus your gratitude on those things. (These can be as simple as gratitude for the soft throw on your couch keeping you cozy or the way the light is shining through the window.)
Refocus and relax: If you’re feeling particularly disorganized or mentally disheveled, put down whatever you’re doing immediately. Take 10 – 15 minutes to go on a walk (if it’s not particularly nice out, grab an umbrella or coat or make a comfy spot by an open window). While on your walk or peering out the window, slowly observe the sky and then the buildings or houses in the area, feel the air flowing past and listen to the sounds around you. Each time your mind tries to run back to something else, change your focus to something around you. Once you head back in, you’ll be feeling calm, relaxed and present.