I’ve been practicing mindfulness for the past few months, and while I’m still fairly new to it, I’ve found it to be a really helpful tool for quieting my mind.
I wanted to write a post on it because I think there are a lot of misconceptions about what mindfulness is, who may benefit from it, and how to integrate regular practice into your life.
And it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, so I thought it would be perfect timing to talk about one way to improve mental clarity.
What Is Mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is focusing on the present moment.
It sounds pretty easy, right? It’s actually more difficult than you may think because the brain is wired to scan for threats and look for problems. The fight, flight, or freeze response is a biological mechanism to protect us from danger. So, basically, it’s a good thing our minds do this!
The problem comes in when the stress response is being activated chronically. This happens when anxious thoughts surpass “normal” levels and are interfering with our enjoyment and engagement in whatever we are doing at the moment.
That’s where mindfulness can be helpful.
Mindfulness practice trains the brain to be able to shift away from thoughts that come into our minds and return to the present moment.
To be clear, it’s not taking away thoughts – because remember our brain needs to be on alert for threats – but it’s teaching the brain to let go of thoughts instead of holding onto them, i.e., dwelling on worries, rumination, and “going down on the rabbit hole.”
So it’s really helpful when we experience stressful, busy, or worrisome times in our lives because if we’ve been practicing mindfulness, our brain will have the mental agility manage the anxious thoughts.
Who Might Benefit From Mindfulness?
In a word, everyone, especially those who experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as physical conditions like high blood pressure and chronic pain.
Around the world, most humans live busy, stressful lives, and there are times when anxiety surpasses what’s biologically useful and interferes with our lives.
It did for me.
A few months ago, I was feeling more anxious than usual. I had a lot of moving parts professionally, am planning our wedding, and was still trying to make time for friends.
I had a lot of worries circling in my mind, and I was dwelling on things I couldn’t change or were outside of my control.
I knew I needed to do something to calm my mind other than my current go-tos – exercise, walks, listening to music, talking with my mom and Logan, etc.
As a therapist, mindfulness is tossed around a lot in my world, but I hadn’t yet given it a fair shot.
I felt like I was out of options, so I decided to give mindfulness a try.
How to Integrate Mindfulness Into Your Life
I used the app Headspace to get started on learning and practicing mindfulness.
The free version has 10 guided sessions that led me through the basics of mindfulness.
Having never practiced mindfulness before, I felt that this was very manageable. In addition, I could choose from 3, 5, or 10 minute guided mindfulness sessions.
I started with the three-minute ones just to test the waters and slowly worked my way up to the longer ones.
I chose to do it in the morning right after waking up instead of checking my email and scrolling through Instagram.
Did I Notice Any Difference?
Have you ever driven to work and barely remembered it?
That’s how many of my days were before I started practicing mindfulness. The mind was already on overdrive from scrolling through Instagram and reading my emails. The day had barely started, and I was already stressed.
About a week into practicing, I noticed that I was singing along to the music in my car. I was noticing my surroundings, like the make or model of the car in front of me, the flowers on the side of the road, the smells of the passing restaurants.
I was in the present, not consumed by thoughts.
By replacing scrolling on Instagram with mindfulness, I found that my drive to work was much peaceful.
Throughout the day, when worries or anxiety popped up, I was better able to manage the thoughts (i.e., not go down the rabbit hole).
It’s important to note: I still get anxious thoughts. That won’t ever change which is a good thing because it’s there for protection.
But I’m much less often consumed by anxious thoughts, and I’m so glad I gave mindfulness a try. I plan to continue doing it regularly because I’ve noticed that it’s like exercise – in order to keep my mind in shape, I need to practice consistently.
I hope this was helpful to demystify mindfulness! If you have any questions, send them my way. I’d be happy to answer as best I can!
What’s your experience with mindfulness and meditation been like? If you’ve been practicing for a while, what tips do you have? I’d love to hear!