How to stop being stressed and anxious in only 10 minutes a day using Mindfulness
1. What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness. Everybody seems to be talking about it. It apparently improves productivity, working environments, relationships, communication, life itself… Seems to be the cure for everything. But what exactly IS mindfulness?
Since mindfulness is one of the core topics of my blog, it only seems logical to write an introduction about it - for all those, who don‘t know what it is exactly or have only heard briefly about it. Please bear in mind, that I‘m not a medical adviser nor a guru.
However, I'm not only a writer and marketing professional, but also a book lover, interested in all kind of different philosophies on how to lead a good and happy life. Since I'm originally an enthusiastic researcher by profession (not a lot of people know that about me), the following text reflects not only my opinion about and my own experience with mindfulness but is also backed by scientific evidence.
A short definition
If you google mindfulness, a lot of definitions will pop up. My own short definition of it is 'the practice of training one‘s mind to pay attention to the present moment gently'. Although mindfulness can be traced back thousands of years to mostly Eastern religious and spiritual institutions and is one of the core principles of Buddhism, Hinduism and even Stoicism (who would have thought?), it gained more popularity in 1979 through Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
He researched the effects of mindfulness meditation on chronically ill patients and its effects on the human brain at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS). After observing significantly positive results, he developed an 8-week program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which is being taught at UMASS until today.
Stripped down to its most essential meaning, mindfulness can be translated into the following: To be fully present in the moment and to focus on the here and now. Sounds quite simple, doesn‘t it? Why is the world making such a huge fuss about mindfulness then?
2. Why do we need Mindfulness?
The wandering mind
In todays modern world, we all are constantly distracted: By our permanently blinking smartphone, by the very annoying notifications on our laptop, by the TV, screaming kids, big city traffic noise and above all that - the chatter in our mind. Our mind, which loves to wander off, jumping from one thought to another to another. We‘re often daydreaming or thinking and worrying about the past and the future.
'What if I would have done that differently?', 'What if I don‘t get that promotion?' - Those thoughts are not only pointless, they also prevent us from enjoying the present, the here and now. Instead, we‘re always on edge, already somewhere else in our minds, barely noticing the beauty that derives from the present moment.
A recently conducted research at Harvard University describes that about 47% of the time we're awake our mind is wandering and that this behavior also increases unhappiness.
The multitasking curse
Additionally, multitasking has helped to decrease our already rather short attention span and has led to less productivity in the workplace and in our private lives. Instead of focusing on only one task, we often throw ourselves into working on various tasks at once, only to finish them mediocre or not at all.
Take constant e-mail notifications while you‘re working on a budget sheet with a tight deadline. It is highly improbable that you get into the flow mode while being distracted by mostly unimportant messages and hence more likely to make mistakes within your excel sheet. Or take eating lunch in front of your computer: Have you really finished that super important presentation diligently, while stuffing a sandwich into your mouth? How did that sandwich even taste?
Our short attention span, our craving for instant gratification through social media, our fast paced information society has led to a high level of stress and frustration for a lot of its members.
Another negative factor of being always on edge and stressed is, that one feels guilty, if there is suddenly free time, let‘s say, on the weekend to chill out. Instead of relaxing, a lot of people panic and bring more work upon themselves. Have you ever had that guilty feeling while being in a spa instead of enjoying your massage there? Or could you truly relax and let go of your anxiety?
3. How to implement Mindfulness in your daily routine
Mindfulness will help you to slow down in your everyday life, to take one step at a time and to take things easy. The practice of mindfulness lets you concentrate on one specific thing at a time and to make intentional choices and thoughtful decisions. This will lead to a state of mind, where you can enjoy what you have, rather than looking for something better or different. The goal is to be present in a calm way and doing so gently without feeling guilty.
How to be present
I know, I know. That sounds all good, but what exactly can you actually do to be more mindful on a daily basis? Start small, it is all about being in the moment and experiencing it to the fullest. You could cook mindfully by paying attention to what you are preparing and how; later on, you can eat your food mindfully by savoring each bite.
Doesn‘t this piece of [insert delicious meal] taste exquisitely? You could listen to music mindfully by only doing that: listening to the music and enjoying the melody, getting lost in the lyrics.
What if your mind is wandering off and you start daydreaming while working? By noticing this, you're already being mindful. My personal go-to strategy is to breathe deeply and to be aware of my breathing whenever I feel distracted.
I also ask myself: Am I distracted? When I find myself drowning in a mess, I also breathe deeply in and out 3 times to get centered again. It helps to slow down and to take a step back of the situation, especially if you‘re e.g. about to overreact to an insult or your kid‘s tantrum.
Take a short break to think.
Hit pause and reevaluate.
The conversation with yourself
Start asking yourself: Why am I feeling what I‘m feeling? Why am I angry? Why am I sad exactly? Start a conversation with yourself and dig deeper. Pay attention to and acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and body sensations as they come, without interpreting or judging them. Only observe.
Being non-judgmentally towards yourself and others will be a task, you might find hard. Our society is prone to judge everybody and everything constantly. We also compare ourselves to others all the time. Try to get rid of old habits and old thinking. Let go. Instead, be kind and compassionate with yourself and others. You'll feel better.
It takes practice to be mindful. An excellent way of practicing is meditation. If you‘ve never meditated before, don‘t be afraid of trying it. Start with guided meditations. There are a lot on youtube, you could easily follow. I personally love meditation apps such as Headspace, Calm or Mindfulness. Those will also help you to develop the habit of daily meditation and all of them have free content to get you going.
You can start with 5-10 minutes per day each morning before heading off or in the evening before going to bed. You only need to find a quiet spot to sit relaxed.
... what about yoga?
Another great way to make space for mindfulness is yoga. I started with Yoga in 2010 and have never regretted it since, although I was biased before. The breathing techniques, the movements and holding specific poses also introduce you to mindfulness in a subtle way.
If you've never done it before, please do yourself the favor and try it. Maybe there is a cute yoga studio right around the corner of your office or home? There are different yoga styles and different teaching methods. You might have to try different yoga instructors until you find someone you feel comfortable with.
And if you don't wanna leave your house, youtube can also help you out: there are so many yoga videos and channels like 'Yoga with Adriene' or 'Tara Stiles'. If you're a beginner however, I highly suggest, that you visit a course until you've learned the basics; this way you won't hurt yourself when doing some poses for the first time.
4. The benefits backed by science
There‘s a ton of benefits linked to being more mindful, which have been scientifically proven:
- You‘ll have a better connection to your body and health.
- Your general awareness is raised.
- Increased personal calmness & tranquility.
- You‘ll feel self-sufficient.
- Increase of personal loving kindness.
- Significant reduction of anxiety.
- You‘ll feel empowered.
- Significant improvement of sleep.
- Improved attention.
- Emotional regulation.
- Better working memory.
- Improved control and focus.
- Less relapse in depression.
- Better pain management.
Yes, really. All that can happen by practicing mindfulness in your everyday life. It might not be all of the above and certainly not instantly, still you will definitely see some sort of result in the long-term, if you decide to be more mindful in your daily routine.
Please understand, that this is not a quick fix to any problem you're struggling with. Practicing mindfulness is a longer term approach, a sustainable way to a happier and healthier lifestyle.
5. Final Thoughts
How do you know, if your succeeding with your mindfulness practice? Well, most important of all, being mindful is a never-ending journey and not a competition with an ultimate goal. You'll feel the difference after a while. Maybe you notice that you reacted calmer than usual in a stressful situation. Or maybe your focus has sharpened. Hopefully you feel happier and less anxious.
Some final words: Take joy in the little things in the present, be grateful and never take anything for granted. By being mindful throughout the day, every day, you‘ll navigate through your sometimes hectic yet joyful life easier. Don‘t forget that your life is just waiting to be lived!
If you have 10 minutes to spare, watch this insightful and entertaining TED Talk about mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe, one of the founders of Headspace and a former buddhist monk.
Are you looking for actionable ways on how to be more mindful in your daily routine? I've put together what I call 'The ultimate beginner's guide to a mindful lifestyle' incl. a 30 day planner to keep track on your habits and you can download it for free.
What are your thoughts on mindfulness? Have you ever meditated or do you do yoga? How often and do you enjoy it? I‘d love to hear your feedback so please let me know in the comments section below.