Employing Mindfulness Skills Can Destress Your Day and Enhance Your Life
Keep grades up. Prep for standardized tests. Power through sports practice. Make time for friends and family. Is it any wonder that the American Psychological Association reported that at times teens are more stressed than adults? Mindfulness is a term we’ve all heard, but what does it mean and how can it help reduce stress and anxiety? A 2009 study conducted of high school seniors showed that regular incorporation of mindfulness practices led to a decrease in negative affect and rumination or repetitive thoughts. Study participants reported that the exercises taught them how to let go of distressing thoughts and better manage stress.
What is Mindfulness?
“Live in the moment.” “Be present.” These phrases echo the principle of mindfulness, but the actual practice encompasses the use of a variety of techniques and skills to help us bring awareness for even just a moment to the present point in time and experience.
Mindfulness interventions include meditation, guided imagery, journaling, relaxation, and yoga. The goal is to place an intentional pause on life and take a few seconds or minutes to acknowledge your surroundings and your physical presence within a space. Studies have shown that increasing awareness of the present leads to increased focus and decreased stress levels.
Practicing mindfulness involves taking account of a present moment or experience through nonjudgmental awareness. Stress is a part of life, and mind-body practices can help us manage these expected pressures. The most essential part of mindfulness is removing judgment. We can often be hard on ourselves as we agonize over the endless list of things to be done. Being mindful is not the time to plan out your day or lament on the things you forgot to do. It’s an opportunity to calm nerves. It can also replace other ostensible stress relievers that are usually less than cost-effective and usually only offer short-term gain, like retail therapy or food binging.
A Mindful Moment – Try It Out!
There is really no right or wrong way to practice mindfulness as long as you are intentional about becoming aware of the present without judgment. A simple way a mindful meditation. Find 5 or 10 minutes in your schedule where you can sit comfortably and uninterrupted.
- When you’re ready, remove all potential distractions (phone, computer, tv, etc.) before starting.
- Sit down or lay comfortably on a chair or sofa or the floor. Try avoiding your bed, so this doesn’t turn into an unexpected nap.
- Close your eyes or find a point of focus to look at. Take two deep breaths exhaling slowly.
- As you begin to take your next breaths, you will want to try exhaling for longer than you inhale.
- Inhale for 4 seconds… 1. 2. 3. 4. And Exhale for 7 seconds… 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7
Exhaling for a longer period than inhaling activates your vagus nerve and your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for rest and digest, and tells our brain that it is okay to relax.
As you inhale, take account of your surroundings. Pay attention to any sounds, smells, or even the support of the chair under you. Try not to dwell on any opinions about these things.
As you exhale, take account of your physical presence. Think about the sensation of your body in the chair or sofa. Focus on different parts of your body beginning with your feet and work your way up. Notice if you feel any pain or discomfort.
Continue to inhale and exhale for as long as you are comfortable. You can set a timer for any time between 5 – 10 minutes.
Other Mindfulness Breaks
You can also practice mindfulness more informally. Next time you sit down to eat dinner, take a moment to pay attention to the food on your plate. Notice how the food is arranged, its colors and smells as you begin to eat, notice the flavors and textures. Finally, take time to assess how the food makes you feel. We often combine eating with planning for our next task or stressing over a previous interaction. Mindful eating allows you to stay in the moment of the meal and block out any potential or ongoing stressors.
Mindfulness can look like anything you want as long as you make time to focus on the present moment without judgment. Just remember to focus on the present activity without letting your mind wander to and judge the mistakes you made earlier or the challenges that lie ahead. We can all benefit from taking a pause from the journey and enjoying the moment.
Gianna Shipp is a former Tungsten Prep tutor. She holds a Masters’s degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine at Georgetown University where studied the benefits and physiology of mindfulness practice. As an advisor for a local outreach program teaching yoga and mindfulness to elementary children, Gianna has a first-hand understanding of how mindfulness can positively impact youth. She recommends guided meditations using apps, including Insight Timer (https://insighttimer.com) and Headspace (https://www.headspace.com) or YouTube’s The Honest Guys – Meditation — Relaxation channel.