When was the last time that you paused for a minute and took note of your breath, your surroundings, and perhaps how you were feeling in your body?
From the moment we wake up until our head hits the pillow, most of us have our eyes glued to our phones, our hands tied to work tasks and our minds caught up in a flurry of past or future oriented thoughts.
We are socialized to be "permanently productive" and "always on the go". One often wonders where exactly we are all racing towards and what we will do when we get there. With our attention constantly bombarded by task lists, deadlines and disturbing media stories, it's no wonder that our mental health has suffered.
Thinking about the past is often associated with feelings of regret, despair and depression.
Thinking about the future is often associated with anxiety, panic and worry.
This is because we have little to no control over the past and future.
We only truly have control over the present moment.
The skill of mindfulness can teach us to gain more control of our attention and help us be more truly present in our lives.
Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, we can remember that mindfulness teaches us that life is just a bunch of moments strung together and we only need to get through one moment at a time.
BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS
Reduction in stress and anxiety
Reduction in depression and increased reported happiness
Strengthened immune system
Increased flexibility in thinking and attitude
Improved quality of relationships
MINDFULNESS AND THE BRAIN
A number of recent scientific studies have revealed that practicing mindfulness can actually reshape the brain (neuroplasticity).
When we practice mindfulness, we engage certain parts of the brain more than other parts, and because neurons that fire together, wire together, mindfulness practice leads to:
A decrease in size of the Amygdala (the brain’s emotion center responsible for the anxiety & depression response)
An increase in size of the prefrontal cortex (the brain’s rational/thinking center)
Paying attention, with intention, to the present moment, without judgement.
BASIC MINDFULNESS SKILLS
Do one thing at a time. This is the opposite of multi-tasking. When you become distracted by distressing thoughts or a wandering mind, continue coming back to the task at hand. Fully savor the moment.
Example: When you are eating, only eat – focus on the taste of the food, the movement of your hands, the presentation of the food etc. When you are showering, focus on how the soap smells, how the warm water feels on your body, and what the water sounds like.
Stick to the facts. Don’t evaluate as good or bad. Notice when your mind does judge and don’t judge your judging, just notice it. Judgments are “spontaneous and often inaccurate interpretations” that usually lead to an increase in emotional distress. It’s not the trigger itself that leads to our distress, but rather the manner in which we INTERPRET the trigger.
Example: (non-judgmental) My coworker did not greet me today and I noticed I became anxious vs (judgmental) my peer did not greet me today, she must hate me and my anxiety is bad.
Using your 5 senses is one way in which to anchor yourself in the present moment. What can you see, smell, hear, touch and taste in this present moment? Observing with one’s senses also signals to the brain that you are safe, and naturally calms the nervous system.
Example: Trace the outline of the clouds with your eyes, notice the sensation of the breeze on your arms.
Using words, non-judgmentally describe a situation, your emotions, thoughts or an experience.
Example: I’m noticing my heart rate increasing and my hands are sweating vs “I feel anxious and it’s terrible”
Make a choice to actively engage in whatever you are doing in the present moment. Become one with what you are doing, throw yourself completely into the activity of the current moment.
Example: While at a social gathering, be present in the conversation and games instead of checking your phone or day-dreaming.
A quick & easy acronym to help with your MINDFULNESS practice
The PEACE skill below will help you to respond to difficult thoughts, feelings and situations in a MINDFUL manner. When you become aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can pause and thoughtfully choose effective behavior which is how you will create a more meaningful life for yourself.
P: PAUSE – when you notice an intense emotion or unpleasant thoughts, it is time to take a pause. It is a signal to practice being mindful.
E: EXHALE – Take a slow, long, exhale and as you exhale let out a sigh or even some tears. Remember to inhale after exhaling and continue breathing normally, knowing your breath can always be an anchor for you to return to.
A: ACKNOWLEDGE, ACCEPT, ALLOW
Acknowledge the thought, emotion or situation by saying, “here’s sadness,” “sadness has just arrived,” or “I’m noticing sadness.”
Accept the thought, emotion or situation by saying, “it is what it is” or “I might not like it, but I can accept it.” We do this because fighting against reality only drains you further and heightens unpleasant emotions.
Allow room for your current experience by inviting the experience to stay as long as it needs to. You can say, “sadness, you can stay here as long as you need as I know you will rise, fall, and then move on like a wave when you are ready”.
C: COMPASSION & CHOOSE
Express understanding and compassion to yourself that something feels painful and that the human experience can be tough at times.
Make a decision of how best to respond in the current moment. What choice will move you forward in this moment? Is it in line with the kind of person you want to be and how you want to live your life?
Now that you have paused and been mindful, it’s time to re-engage in the remainder of your day.
Check out this blog post by our very own therapist Nicole Bentley on incorporating mindfulness into your daily activities.
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