Thoughtful Thursday: Mindfulness
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a structured program pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn that has been shown to be effective in helping people cope with a variety of issues, including stress, anxiety, and depression – especially if used in conjunction with things like therapy, and if necessary, medication. Remember, if your symptoms of anxiety or depression are interfering with your work or with everyday functioning, or if they’re present more often than not, please talk to your health care provider. These are treatable conditions, just like something like diabetes. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s certainly not a matter of “willpower” or “weakness.”
Whether you have a clinical diagnosis or are simply stressed out and wanting to reduce everyday stress, mindfulness, part of MBSR, can help. What is mindfulness? It’s merely being aware. So much of our day is spent multi-tasking, between job, family, school, parenting – especially with our technology. How many tabs are open in your laptop browser right now? (I confess; I have at least 5 open). We have our smartphones, laptops, tablets, even smartwatches. Being mindful includes slowing down and becoming aware of things like our body in the present moment, our breath, the food we are eating, and our sensory experience of this moment, right now. You don’t need any special equipment or any formal training to practice mindfulness, either.
Here are some mindfulness exercises that can help reduce stress. It can take a little while to get used to these behaviors, but like anything new, the more you practice it, the easier it gets.
Focus on your Breath
Sit straight up in a chair. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing; feel your breath move in and out of your body. Let yourself slowly become aware of the way your breath moves – through your nostrils, out of your mouth, the way your abdomen moves up and down. There is no right or wrong way to do this; you’re simply practicing awareness of your breathing.
Practice Mindful Appreciation
Throughout your day, try to take note of 5 things that usually go unnoticed or unappreciated. This is just to practice thankfulness and appreciate the smaller things in our lives that we usually don’t give a second thought to – the clothes that keep us warm or dry, the way our body works to keep us mobile or healthy, the kindness of a stranger who holds the door. With each thing you note, take a moment to really see and appreciate its place in your life.
The Body Scan
The Body Scan is a popular exercise; here is a 30-minute guided scan by Jon Kabat-Zinn for you to try. It is a guided imagery exercise that is similar to systematic relaxation, but focuses on awareness throughout the body.
The most popular mindful eating exercise is the raisin exercise, but you can do this with any kind of food. You can use similar mindfulness techniques while eating a whole meal, as well. If you’re using a raisin, take one raisin. Make sure your phone is turned off (or to silent), and you’re free from distractions. Let all of your attention focus on the task at hand, eating. Really look at the raisin; its folds, its shape, its color. Smell the raisin, feel its texture. When you’re ready, place it in your mouth, on your tongue. How does it feel in your mouth? What does it taste like? Slowly chew it, noticing the way it bursts in your mouth, the textures, and taste. When ready, swallow, and feel the food as it moves through your throat.
Interested in learning more? Here are some mindfulness exercises that you can do in less than a minute.
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