Most people have that one habit that shows up when boredom or anxiety hits as a way to deal with the discomfort. My culprit is nail biting / picking. It's an instant self soothe when my mind is racing from worry, I'm thinking about what I need to do, or I'm passing the time waiting in traffic or in line. It's not a cute habit to have. I either need to have stubby, painful, occasionally bleeding nail beds and cuticles or get acrylic nails at the salon (which is a health topic in itself). I've tried it all throughout the years- nasty tasting "no bite" nail polish, the bribe of getting a professional manicure, self promises of buying cute jewelry once my hands look somewhat decent, and more. Sure, it's great to investigate and try out methods like this to break the knee-jerk habit, but typically this only "works" for a short time.
Instead of beating myself up for inevitably biting my nails, what I could do is simply notice when it happens. It is at that point that "knee-jerk reaction" becomes choice. This is called mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is all about training yourself to pay attention in a special way to things happening around you. It is about learning to focus on the present moment, letting the past be, and trying not to think about what may be coming up in the future. So much time is spent thinking about things that happened in the past and worrying about what might happen in the future. We forget the present moment is all we really have.
Mindfulness is a way of helping us to experience life as is happens. Mindfulness does not happen automatically. It is an ongoing training process of developing new thought patterns, but the benefits to your mental and physical health will be worth it.
What are the benefits that a state of mindfulness can bring?
Mindfulness has been scientifically examined, and has been found to be a key element in the state of happiness. There is a lot of documented evidence on the many health benefits of mindfulness.
Here are just a few:
· Relieves stress and helps you to relax your body and mind
· Helps to ease digestive difficulties
· Improves your memory, concentration, and learning abilities
· Emotional stability
· Increased self awareness and awareness of those around you
· Improved sleep
· Lower blood pressure
· Reduction in chronic pain
How to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life.
There are many actions you can take to help yourself be more mindful. There are some things you can immediately incorporate into your daily life, while others may take more time and practice. Listed here are some good ways to get started.
· Take time. Everything you do is an experience. Just take some time to really appreciate and feel anything you do, whether it be conversation, a walk, or just admiring a view. Pay attention to the details and be aware of the sounds, sights or just connecting with someone you may meet on your way.
· Mindful eating. Eating is one of the greatest pleasures in life. If you eat slowly, focus on the taste and the smell, food suddenly becomes a lot more delicious. Another benefit is that if you eat more slowly, it is a good way to actually eat less.
· Mindful breathing is something you can practice all the time. Just take a minute or two to focus on your breathing, feel your lungs expand and listen to the sound of your breath. You will find it very relaxing.
· Daily quiet times when you can practise mindful meditation for calming effect on the busyness of life is beneficial.
· Look at the world in a new way. Each day imagine that you are seeing things for the very first time. Pay attention to little things that you might normally notice and take note of the details, be it only how a tree branch moves in the wind, or the shape of a cloud in the sky.
When you achieve a state of focused relaxation, it allows the mind to refocus on the present moment, and you will be less likely to be caught up in concerns about the past, and what may happen in the future.
Mindfulness improves mental health.
Recent research has shown that mindfulness meditation plays an important part in the treatment of several psychological problems. It has been noted that psychologists, psychotherapists, and psychiatrists have included mindfulness therapy as part of the treatment in a number of emotional problems including:
· Depression and anxiety about the present, past, and future
· Substance abuse and alcohol dependence
· Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating because of stress and worries
· Obsessive-compulsive disorder which is linked to being unable to accept what is going on around you, and a constant need to change everything
The mental calmness afforded by mindfulness will help you deal objectively with negative emotional experiences, and put you in touch with the mental habits that give you a feeling of well-being, and which cause feelings of pain.
Learning to stay in the present.
Learning to live in the moment is something anyone can do. It does not require any form of rocket science. You can choose any task to practice mindfulness, whether you are eating, walking, showering, interacting with a partner, or perhaps playing with a child.
You need to breathe deeply, and engage your senses so that you notice every sight, touch, and sensation as you deliberately proceed with the task at hand. If you notice that your attention wanders, bring it back to the presence of the moment.
Being mindful will allow you to live life in the moment, and help you to cope when things are tough, without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
What mindfulness is not!
There is a lot of talk about slowness and acceptance, and living in the moment with regard to mindfulness. This might create an erroneous impression for some that everything has to be done in slow motion, which is definitely not the case.
Increasing your capacity for mindfulness supports attitudes that will lead to a more satisfying life, as you take life one step and one moment at a time, instead of being in a frenzy about the past and what could happen in the future. This is not acting in slow motion.
Remember that we really only have today...yesterday is gone – and tomorrow is only a dream!
What step can you take to be mindful today?