I suffered from it for years.
At times it was debilitating.
Sometimes it made me physically ill.
I’m sure there are times when you deal with it too.
Stress and anxiety. The feeling of overwhelm. A racing heart. Unexplained dread. Looping thoughts. Panicky feelings. Exhaustion.
Life IS stressful. All of the normal, everyday stimuli, demands, and deadlines alone create plenty of anxiety.
Piled on top of that, I created even more stress by demanding too much from myself and then feeling stressed about my anxiety. I just kept layering it on, blind to how I was manufacturing much of my own suffering.
Not until I got serious about a mindfulness practice was I able to find a sustainable exit ramp from anxiety. I still have stress, and there are still times I feel anxious.
But now I have an evidence-based practice I can return to at any moment of the day to regain equanimity and get back into the flow of joyful experience.
The practice of mindfulness has not only loosened the grip of anxiety, but also it’s given me a deeper awareness of myself and a way to be a creator of my life rather than a reactor to it.
The Stress-Relieving Power of Mindfulness
Mindfulness has been the subject of much interest and discussion in recent years. Self-help sections in bookstores are filled with books on the topic.
Scientific and psychological magazines have adopted the trend and regularly publish articles about its benefits, which sound almost too good be true.
Even Hillary Clinton has discussed her mindfulness practice and its benefits in her ability to handle the roller coaster that is the political world.
But the word is widely misunderstood.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness really isn’t a lofty concept. It isn’t about tuning into some sort of unseen spiritual realm.
In fact, it’s the opposite.
Mindfulness is simply a state of mind in which you are aware of yourself and your surroundings as you go about your day. It can be summed up with the word “presence.”
It involves a judgment-free openness to all the thoughts, feelings, and experiences that the day might hold.
We’ve all had days when our peripheral vision is shut off, and we are rushing through the day’s tasks on autopilot, constantly worrying about the next one and barely stopping to think.
This state is a profoundly unmindful way to go through the day. Spending too much time living this way eventually takes its toll, leading to irritability, stress, and exhaustion.
We’ve also all had days when everything just seems to work.
It’s not that there are no difficulties, but the mundane problems just don’t seem worth getting too worked up about, and life just seems a little bit lighter and more fun.
The latter is a state of mindfulness, and everyone experiences it naturally without conscious effort.
Unfortunately, the hectic lifestyle that seems to have become the norm tends to push people away from the latter state and into the former.
The good news is that with a little conscious effort, you can cultivate mindfulness in your life without having to quit your job and move to a Buddhist monastery.
What is Mindfulness: 3 Ways to Cultivate Mindfulness in Your Life
The words “mindfulness” and “meditation” are sometimes used interchangeably, although they are not quite the same thing.
Mindfulness is the state, and meditation is the method by which you practice entering into that state.
By removing all external stimuli and focusing quietly on your breathing, you become intimately acquainted with the patterns and habits of your mind, especially after meditating regularly over a long period of time.
Meditation is not necessarily the easiest method, but it is certainly the simplest to start.
- Choose a time of day when you can relax, such as early in the morning or late at night.
- Make sure to find a quiet space where you will not be disturbed.
- Choose a position that you can comfortably sit or lie down in without being tempted to shift and squirm. The lotus position is a good choice because it gently locks the body in place.
- When you are first starting out, set a timer for just ten to fifteen minutes.
- Focus on your breathing for the duration of the session, allowing thoughts and feelings to drift in and out without taking any one of them as a call to action.
Don’t be discouraged when you notice that you’ve gotten caught up in a train of thought and forgotten what you were doing.
It is inevitable, and it will happen over and over. Noticing is a sign of progress.
Yoga is another practice that is closely associated with mindfulness. It involves breath control, focus, and physical movement.
Yoga is an excellent choice if you are more physically inclined since it is a method to foster mindfulness of the body.
By placing your body in various poses and holding them, you develop an awareness of the interaction between the force you exert and the sensations your body sends back as a result.
The result is a connectedness to your body and a finely tuned control over it.
Mindfulness is a fundamentally holistic state based on equal connectedness to all experiences, and so many people who enjoy yoga find that this physical awareness translates to psychological awareness as well.
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3. Sports and Exercise
If you exercise or play any sport regularly, you are familiar with the feeling of total focus and absence of worry that is sometimes called “flow.”
Endorphins play a role in this feeling, but almost every sport requires you to be completely tuned into your surroundings as you react to them accordingly.
In addition to being physically gifted, the best athletes are actually highly skilled at entering into a mindful state.
Hiking, cycling, and other forms of exercise that can be done in nature are particularly good choices. Quieter natural environments tend to push people in the direction of mindfulness, as opposed to overstimulating urban settings.
There are many other ways to practice mindfulness. It really doesn’t matter which you choose as long as you enjoy it enough to do it consistently.
Over time, the mindfulness that you cultivate during these practices will begin to seep into other areas of your life.
You will likely notice immediate benefits such as a decrease in anxiety, but the real changes occur slowly over the long term.
As you become more familiar with your mind and how your environment affects you, you will find yourself naturally gravitating towards healthy activities.
You will also find that over time you become more present and attentive in your relationships and friendships.
A perfectly mindful life involves unity between the outside and the inside.
Life’s problems, difficulties, and messiness won’t disappear, but you won’t make them worse than they are, and you won’t overestimate their importance at the expense of life’s joy.