Many have heard of the trend of mindfulness; however, they may not know what it really means. Mindfulness is not filling our minds with thoughts (mind + full). Rather, it is focusing on one thing that is in front of you. Mindfulness is a practice that has been used throughout the ages, but due to the busyness of life expectations and responsibilities, we have collectively forgotten how it feels or looks. Multitasking while doing our daily routines has become normal. As we live each day in this autopilot state, or as I like to call it: Operation Autopilot, we fail to recognize how we sense our way through each task. The usual drive by your neighbor’s house on your way to work, or even brushing your teeth every morning is now automatic. But, when was the last time you stopped to reflect on what you sensed while you were doing these things? Smell? Taste? Hear? Feel? See?
Unfortunately, our minds are so full that it is no wonder that our society is so stressed, anxious, depressed, and overwhelmed. The cost of a full mind is big. Not only does Operation Autopilot decimate our ability to live in the moment, it disallows us to experience true happiness because it is impossible to focus on what is directly in front of us.
Overthinking, planning, negative thinking, and daydreaming can all cause your brain to get exhausted. This will lead to a low tolerance for stress, depression, anxiety, and can even worsen the brain’s condition of negative thinking. Mindfulness is very important because it helps us understand our needs, wants, and feelings, so that we can combat all the mental exhaustion. Moreover, living mindfully allows us to be present in the moment, opens our emotional availability, and decreases the physiological response of the sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight.” Life absent mindfulness is like operation plans of conflict or even war.
More transparently, imagine that you are eating lunch. You have a delicious burger with a beef patty, lettuce, tomato, pickles, bacon, cheese, mayo, ketchup, and mustard, on a Hawaiian bun. Next thing you know, you have excruciating stomach cramps, and you run to the restroom to relieve yourself. You then wonder what caused your stomach upset. Was it the beef patty? The lettuce or tomato? The burger is an analogy to your daily life. It is so full of add-ons, just as your life is full of errands, responsibilities, obligations, etc. With such a list of ingredients on your burger, you cannot pinpoint what made you sick. Similarly, you are so full of life tasks that you cannot always name what makes you happy.
The moral of the story is that simplification, prioritization, and intention can be the most effective means to an operation of peacetime instead of the opposing. Frankly, we need mindfulness all the time, but especially during the holidays!
The holidays can wreak havoc on our mental health. Not only do we notice an increase in social responsibilities this time of year, but we spend a lot of time in our minds planning, thinking, dreaming, and so forth. The positive news is that by implementing Operation Mindfulness, we can overcome any obstacle in the way. A few ways to do this is:
- Live the moment as if it was your last. If this was your last day on Earth, what would you do? Focus on what matters: the people, places, and things that bring you the most joy. Be in the moment and tune into how you are feeling. Try not to plan too much or too far in advance. Instead, adopt your inner Norwegian by eliminating the clock watch. Doing so will help you appreciate the small things you may normally take for granted.
- Pay attention to detail. Author and artist, Hanna Rion VerBeck said, “The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses.” The power of senses is immense as it can impact every aspect of our life experiences. Taking in your world through your senses can help you live in the moment. Feel the wind on your skin as you enter the warmer climate indoors. Take in the smells of mint or ginger coming from the kitchen or the pine and snow from the surrounding nature. When you eat, take your time to taste the ingredients of each food item. Is it sweet, savory, salty, or sour? Sense your way through the holidays!
- Slow your thoughts. If you begin to have negative thoughts of worry, overwhelm, or doubt pop into your head, acknowledge those thoughts and say to yourself, “I choose not to worry/doubt/stress.” We spend most of our time thinking about the future, and nine out of ten times, what we are so concerned about does not even happen. The 10% may mean that the worries, doubts, or stress is confirmed, but there is greater likelihood that you cannot possibly dream up the real outcomes of life. After all, if you could predict the future, I doubt that you would be doing your day job! So instead: pause, acknowledge, breathe, and redirect your brain to focus on the positive and enjoy the day.
These are just a few methods of helping you change the way you think so that you may live in the moment. However, it is not easy. You have spent years working, planning, pushing, stressing, worrying, fighting, and driving your life on autopilot. It takes time, commitment and practice to unlearn those hard-wired behaviors, and learn new, more mindful ones.
An expert method we use at Wellview is what we call Mindfulness Practice. The key word here is practice. By definition, practice is something that is done regularly; a habit or a custom. Mindfulness can help us understand our thoughts and emotions, whilst finding an optimal equilibrium thereof. Furthermore, in a 2017 study, researchers found that mindfulness can improve sleep, diabetes control, and intention, whilst decreasing the effects of burnout. By using mindfulness practice, the amygdala, the part of the brain that responds to danger, can rewire in order to remain calm in the face of adversity or chaos. This is especially helpful for many who have minor to severe anxiety.
So what is a Mindfulness Practice? Well, it is quite simple!
- Find a quiet place. It can be outdoors or indoors. Take a seat on the floor, a pillow or a chair.
- Begin to notice your breathing. You may close your eyes if it helps clear your head. Focus on taking a deep breath in, holding it, and then breathing out. Don’t focus too much on how long you are taking to breathe; just focus on breathing in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. There are many breathing exercises that you can try here.
- Keep your mind clear of thoughts. Notice if a thought comes in; just acknowledge it, imagine that you put it in a bubble, and then let it float away. Thoughts are normal and to be expected. Just continue to work on keeping your mind blank.
- When you are ready, lift your eyes lightly with a gaze, and take a moment to notice any sounds around you. Notice how your body feels. Notice your heartbeat, your thoughts, and your feelings.
- You can again close your eyes and continue another round. At first, you may only be able to meditate for five minutes, but that’s ok. You will want to spend more time in the abyss as you do it more.
There are many helpful mindfulness resources available on the web, and it is a beautiful practice to adopt for your physical and mental well-being. So as you make way for the holidays ahead, take just a few minutes each day to give this or another mindfulness practice a try.
Need help turning your Operation Autopilot into Operation Mindfulness? We at Wellview are always here to help, no matter how hard it may be. CLICK HERE to learn more about the services available to you this holiday season.
– Yajaira Escobedo, LMSW, LCDC, TFCBT, CCTP