Mindfulness was a read buzzword of 2016, wasn’t it? The concept seemed to take off and take hold, and it looks set to stay around for a while. This is because it’s actually a hugely accessible tool to absolutely everyone – it’s free, and doesn’t come with an “all or nothing” clause.
Ultimately, mindfulness is the act of being fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Did you know that it’s recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had multiple bouts of depression in the past? Clearly, if you just find one tiny little tip towards mindfulness that helps you deal with daily stress, anxiety and life admin, then you’ve struck gold.
So, here are a few ways that you can incorporate mindfulness into your lifestyle, to reconnect with the external and protect yourself from internalising the negative. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow, and all that.
Work is so full of habitual behaviour and routine. Of course we need this, our bosses wouldn’t be too happy if we skipped off at 3.45pm one day (just because), but our productivity can definitely be improved by a bit of a mindful boost.
Does your workplace offer agile working, where you can use a hotdesk within a different section or team? A break in the norm and exposing ourselves to varied conditions at work can really put us back in touch with our surroundings. Perhaps you’ll connect with a colleague you’ve never spoken to before, or you’ll overhear a conversation about a social activity you’ve been wanting to try. Maybe something as simple as moving closer to a window will make you aware of different environmental sensations. As for those dull meetings – do you habitually choose the same seat? Sit somewhere else, and see if you notice your settings in a new way.
A lunchtime walk taken alone is also a great time to practise being mindful. As you leave the office, mentally close the door on all that has passed that morning and all that you have ahead of you for the afternoon. Take your mind elsewhere and focus on the senses – what can you hear or smell? Can you time your breath to match the rhythm of your step? These are all simple and effective ways to re-tune your mind and do away with superfluous thoughts.
Our houses are seen as the epicentre of our downtime, where we relax and “flop” at the end of a long day. But often, they can be another source of stress and jobs. Do you sometimes collapse onto the sofa at 9pm and then notice a layer of dust on the TV that you forgot to wipe, or remember a bill you were supposed to pay online but forgot about?
If our daily lives are rammed full of “things” then it’s absolutely pivotal to create a safe place within our homes where we can take some time to be truly “thoughts neutral”. That is, we focus on the here and now and prevent our minds from being clouded with recollections or concerns.
Can you take ten minutes before bed to dim the lights, turn off all electrical equipment near you, and sit calmly and quietly? Perhaps a guided tutorial would help you to get started – there are tons of free apps that you can swot up on, before switching your phone off and putting the tips into practise. The most basic element of mindfulness relates to breathing, and this is an ideal habit to get into as your day winds down. As you breathe in, recognise the act of breathing in. As you breathe out, recognise the out breath. Instantly, you become anchored to the present, without actually needing to invest much effort.
Well, in this context play refers to anything that isn’t domestic homelife or working… so leisure activities, being outdoors, socialising and so on. These can all be very busy and intense in their own right, so it’s a great practise to siphon off 5-10 minutes each day to bring your awareness back to base level.
Working out is a great example of where mindfulness can appear tricky to achieve, but it can actually maximise your effectiveness and performance. True, you’re concentrating on a third party or external source to follow instructions or stick to a beat, but it’s definitely achievable to mentally connect your breathing back to what your body is doing.
We can expand on the simple breathing in / breathing out exercise to include a very deliberate “I am aware of my body” thought process. Isolating out areas of stress or pain can help us to manage them without being overwhelmed. For example, if we can use mindfulness to strip back “I’m tired, I’m hungry, my legs hurt, my arms hurt” to “my calves are aching during this move”, we can work through that discomfort independently and close off the mental messages from everything else.
Ultimately, mindfulness should create a feeling of joy. If it feels like a chore, then consider trying a different approach to see if there’s another mindful method that works better for you.