The benefits of mindfulness in everyday life
Many times everyday life seems to chase us, with our thoughts always on the next activity. We end up functioning mechanically without dwelling on each moment and its significance. And so the mood drops, the psychological state worsens, and pressure and stress make their presence felt more.
A concept that can act as an antidote to this vicious mental cycle is mindfulness. It’s a word we often see around us, but what exactly does it mean and how can it help us?
In the following paragraphs you will learn everything you need to know about mindfulness, but also useful tips and techniques on how to incorporate it into your life and take advantage of its benefits.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness describes our ability to be fully present in the moment, aware of where we are and what we are doing. A peaceful awareness of what is happening around us, without strong reaction or pressure. This concept is widespread in Eastern philosophies and religions, such as Buddhism, but it became more prominent in Western societies from the 70s onwards, thanks to the work of Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn, Professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
In 1979, Kabat Zinn started a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to treat stress, chronic pain, and other problems. He then founded the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, wrote books, and lectures and conducts trainings on mindfulness around the world. In fact, this technique is now taught all over the world and has been used in many researches related to stress and anxiety, sleep, pain, and more. At the same time, it is also used in various approaches for the treatment of mental disorders.
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness is similar and connected to meditation, but it is not exactly the same thing. Meditation is an ideal exercise for the development of mindfulness, with various exercises that we will see below. But if meditation practices seem difficult to you, don’t let that affect your view of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is not something acquired, but a basic ability of the human mind that simply needs practice and encouragement. It is something that can easily be integrated into everyday life, without spending a lot of time, and its benefits are significant. Let’s see them:
- Maintaining calm and mental well-being: the mindfulness technique reduces stress and offers us quality time with ourselves. We gain empathy for ourselves and others, better managing our emotions and coping with what happens to us.
- Improving brain functions: through mindfulness techniques we improve our concentration, memory, social skills, but also our creativity and imagination.
- Improving physical well-being: the mind and body are interconnected, so, good mental practices and habits help both physical well-being and physical activity. Mindfulness also helps with better sleep quality.
How to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life
You don’t need a lot of time or specific equipment to practise mindfulness. All you need is to focus on the present moment and allow yourself to the senses with awareness and attention. Mindfulness is something that can be practised at any time of the day and in almost any activity. The purpose is to train yourself to pay attention to the present and consciously feel what is happening inside and around you: from the sounds you hear, the temperature and feel of the air, what you see, what you do, how your body feels.
There are also instructor-led practices to make the process a little easier, at least at first. You can find articles and videos, recorded instructions, and even mobile apps that will help you make mindfulness a habit and incorporate it into your everyday life. Let’s look at some practices and exercises that you can easily incorporate into your daily life to practise mindfulness.
Take a few minutes at various times throughout the day, whether you’re sitting, standing, walking, or doing some kind of exercise (like yoga or running), to focus on your breathing and pay attention to how you feel, your body functions, letting your thoughts aside. Many times thoughts will pass and distract you, but the goal is not to make your meditation perfect. You can recognize the thoughts that are vying for your attention and refocus on your breathing and calmness.
Small daily breaks
Instead of mechanically moving from one activity to another, you can incorporate mindfulness pauses into your daily life. By taking a short mental break and paying attention to the environment around you and your intentions, you give more importance to activities and approach them differently. Some examples:
- In the morning: before you get up and start your stressful morning routine, take a few calm breaths and reflect on your intentions and goals for the day.
- At work: before you move on to the next activity that requires your attention, before you walk into a meeting, before you pick up the phone or send an email, you can take a minute for yourself and your breath.
- On the road or in the car: listen to the sounds around you, focus on the feel of the steering wheel in your hands, take a few intentional breaths when waiting at a traffic light or before getting off at your stop.
Eating with mindfulness
How many of us eat hurriedly and mechanically, without enjoying the food? This can lead to overconsumption, stomach problems, poor nutrition, and weight gain. Practising mindfulness with food is something that can help with all of this, as eating is a necessary necessity for our physical well-being and survival.
Pay attention to the sensation of the food or drink you consume, try to eat slowly and with concentration on your plate, without doing something else at the same time. Feel the flavors from the bites, the smell and the texture of the food. Eat slowly, chewing the food well and giving your mind time to activate the feeling of fullness.
You can do the same thing during food preparation and cooking, focusing on the movements, aromas and colors of the ingredients, the process needed to transform your ingredients into the final dish.
Mindfulness in human contacts
You don’t have to be alone to practice mindfulness. Even in contacts with other people, friends, relatives, colleagues, you can make the effort to focus your mind on the conversation and what the other person is saying. Instead of letting your mind drift off or thinking about what to say back, listen carefully and empathetically to the other person, observing their face and expressions, the tone of voice, and the emotions they may be expressing.
Tips to choose the best spot for meditation
Meditation and mindfulness can be done anywhere and anytime. But there are points that will help you make the most of the practice to receive all the benefits without obstacles.
The best thing you can do is to ensure that you are not interrupted while you are meditating. You can choose a comfortable place such as the bed, the sofa or your favorite armchair. You can do the same in the car or at the office, or even outdoors (always with safety and attention to the environment around you).
Pay attention to the space, time and people around you when you want to practise mindfulness or meditate. If you are in a place with a lot of people and traffic or there is a possibility of being interrupted, it might not be the best time to do it. But if you find the right moment and a relatively calm spot, you will be able to dedicate a few precious moments just to you.
With a little time on a daily basis, you can incorporate the practice of mindfulness into almost every aspect of your life. From everyday activities like when you drink your coffee in the morning or drive to work, to sports, hobbies, and social contacts.
The benefits are many and lead to a more general mood of well-being that helps you face unexpected situations and improve your mental resilience. It is a skill that we all deserve to develop and that leads us to a better quality of life every moment.
How to know if mindfulness is right for you
Mindfulness is known to help reduce stress and improve mood, but does it work for everyone? Mindfulness is known to help reduce anxiety and manage depression, enhancing mental well-being. But is it a method that suits every person?
Mindfulness in 1’
Mindfulness can be defined as focusing attention on the present moment but also on the unfolding of experiences from moment to moment, without judgment. In recent years, it has significantly increased its popularity, since it promises calmness and better management of the inevitable stress.
Many randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have been conducted around the world to assess whether personal mindfulness practice can improve mental health and well-being, but results are often mixed. In a report published in the journal PLOS Medicine, a team of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Cambridge conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to examine the published data.
Better than… nothing
The researchers found that practising mindfulness compared to no other method could indeed help reduce anxiety and depression, but the data showed that in more than one in twenty trials, mindfulness didn’t seem to help. Compared to other “feel good” practices, such as exercise, mindfulness was neither better nor less effective. While mindfulness is better than inactivity, there may be better ways to improve mental health, such as exercise. In many cases, these may prove to be more appropriate alternatives if they are more effective, more culturally acceptable, or more feasible or cost-effective. The good news is that there are now more options.”
Instant mindfulness practices to reduce stress
Stress can wear you down mentally and take a real toll on your body too. But you can learn to manage it properly by following some tips to help you develop mindfulness.
That is, the precious ability to live in the moment, without being distracted by problems or worries about the future. You have everything you need to practise it, provided that have a plan.
1. Find the motive
It is important that you recognize the motive behind your every action. This way, you can focus on your activity more easily. If a certain activity is causing you anxiety, then you need to discover your motive. That way you’ll focus on the motive, rather than the worry.
2. Draw abstractly
Take a few minutes to draw or paint abstractly, as this not only increases your creativity but allows the brain to take a break from the fast and stressful everyday life. You don’t have to create a work of art, just relax and let your mind wander.
3. Movement works wonders
Try going for a walk when you feel your worries are overwhelming you. Pay attention to the sounds around you, feel the wind on your skin and take a few deep breaths to release tension. Leave the phone in your bag and try to stay focused on the moment.
4. Mental wish
You only need ten seconds to wish another person something good. However, it is not necessary to actually implement this practice. It is enough to mentally direct all your positive energy to a loved one. Try it on your way back from the office or the gym.
5. Look up
Not only beyond your mobile screen but also in the stars. Whether you’re coming home at night or taking out the trash, take a few seconds to look up at the sky. Let it remind you that life is bigger than your worries or stress right now.
6. One thing at a time
Yes, your to-do list may indeed be endless, but it is important to focus your attention and energy on one issue at a time. As you organize for the day ahead, take five minutes to think individually about everything you have to do. This way you will be better prepared, without stress or insecurity.
7. Practice also requires rest
Don’t constantly push yourself to be present, as this can backfire. Instead, find some time to let your mind go completely free, enjoying your favorite series or that book you’ve been putting off reading. After resting, you will be able to continue the practice more vigorously, which in turn will bring better results.