Stressed? So are we. From a confusing election to the growing climate crisis, it’s no wonder that we’re the the most stressed out generation in history. This constant state of panic is giving us anxiety, wreaking havoc on our overall health.
Well, fear not, we can take small steps towards calming the noise in our heads. Specifically, we can meditate, or to be even more specific, we can take up mindful meditation.
Mindfulness is a type of meditation that asks us to focus on being aware of what we’re thinking, and accepting it, versus just trying to clear our minds. After all, our minds are intended to think, project, and reflect.
There are many simple ways you can be more mindful. Here are seven tips to incorporate into your daily life.
- Practice mindfulness during routine activities.
Try bringing awareness to the daily activities you usually do on autopilot. For instance, pay more attention as you’re brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating breakfast or walking to work, he said. Zero in on the sight, sound, smell, taste and feel of these activities and you might find the routine activity is more interesting than you thought says Lucas.
- Practice right when you wake up.
According to Professor Lucas, “Mindfulness practice first thing in the morning helps set the ‘tone’ of your nervous system for the rest of the day, increasing the likelihood of other mindful moments.” If you find yourself dozing off, as Lucas does, just practice after having your coffee or tea. But “…don’t read the paper, turn on the TV, check your phone or email, etc. until after you’ve had your ‘sit,’” she said.
- Let your mind wander.
“Your mind and brain are natural wanderers – much like a crawling toddler or a puppy, Lucas said. And that’s a good thing. Having a “busy brain,” Lucas said, is actually an asset. “The beneficial brain changes seen in the neuroscience research on mindfulness are thought to be promoted in large part by the act of noticing that your mind has wandered, and then non-judgmentally – lovingly [and] gently— bringing it back,” she said.
- Keep it short.
Our brains respond better to bursts of mindfulness, Lucas said. So being mindful several times a day is more helpful than a lengthy session or even a weekend retreat. While 20 minutes seems to be the gold standard, starting at a few minutes a day is OK, too.
For instance, you can tune into your body, such as focusing “on how your shoes feel on your feet in that moment, or giving attention to how your jaw is doing [such as, is it] tight, loose or hanging open at the audacity of the person in front of you in the coffee line?” Lucas said.
- Practice mindfulness while you wait.
In our fast-paced lives, waiting is a big source of frustration – whether you’re waiting in line or stuck in traffic. But while it might seem like a nuisance, waiting is actually an opportunity for mindfulness, Halliwell said. When you’re waiting, he suggested bringing your attention to your breath. Focus on “the flow of the breath in and out of your body, from moment to moment and allow everything else to just be, even if what’s there is impatience or irritation.”
- Pick a prompt to remind you to be mindful.
Choose a cue that you encounter on a regular basis to shift your brain into mindful mode, Lucas said. For instance, you might pick a certain doorway or mirror or use drinking coffee or tea as a reminder, she said.
- Learn to meditate.
“The best way to cultivate mindfulness in everyday life is to formally train in meditation,” Halliwell said. He compared practicing mindfulness to learning a new language. “You can’t just decide to be fluent in Spanish – unless you already are – you have to learn the language first,” he said. “Practicing meditation is how to learn the language of mindfulness.” Meditation helps us tap into mindfulness with little effort, he said. He suggested finding a local teacher or trying out CDs.
Mindfulness isn’t a luxury, Lucas said, “it’s a practice that trains your brain to be more efficient and better integrated, with less distractibility and improved focus. It minimizes stress and even helps you become your best self.”
Lucas cited Richard Davidson’s research at the Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin, which shows that all of us have an emotional “set point.” “Some of us have more of a tendency toward withdrawal, avoidance, negative thinking and other depressive symptoms, [whereas] others have a greater tendency toward positive moods [such as, being] curious, tending to approach new things and positive thinking,” she said. Davidson has found that through mindfulness, we may be able to train our brains and shift our set points.