Now that the busy holiday season is over, it is time not only to reflect on the past, but to prepare and refocus for the New Year ahead. As we focus on the New Year, it is always refreshing to have a clean slate. As the year begins to unfold, there are tips to help you manage your day-to-day stress levels. It begins with mindfulness.
What is mindfulness? Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” –Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn (1991)
Mindfulness is best thought of as a way of being rather than an activity in and of itself. Almost any activity can be carried out with mindful awareness.
Mindful awareness has three key features:
Purpose – mindfulness involves intentionally and purposefully directing your attention rather than letting it wander.
Presence – mindfulness involves being fully engaged with and attentive to the present moment. Thoughts about the past and future that arise are recognized simply as thoughts occurring in the present.
Acceptance – mindfulness involves being nonjudgmental toward whatever arises in the moment. This means that sensations, thoughts, and emotions are not judged as good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; they are simply noticed as “happening,” and observed until they eventually pass (Naik, Harris, and Forthun 2016).
Mindfulness is a mind-body practice that has been found to benefit both psychological and physical health. The primary psychological change that occurs during mindfulness practice is an increased awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations in the present moment. Over time, mindfulness practice can help you to become aware of the space between noticing experiences and reacting to them by letting you slow down and observe the processes of your mind (Black 2010). The ultimate goal of mindfulness practice is for you to take advantage of this space so you can make more intentional decisions – to wake up from living life on autopilot, based on unproductive habits of mind (Black 2010; Walach et al. 2007).
According to the American Psychological Association, some empirically supported benefits of mindfulness include the following (Davis & Hayes 2011):
Increased awareness of one’s mind
Significantly reduced stress, anxiety, and negative emotions
Increased control over ruminative thinking (a major cause and symptom of depression and anxiety)
Increased mental flexibility and focus
More working memory
Decreased distracting thoughts
Decreased emotional reactivity
Increased capacity for intentional, responsive behaviors
Increased empathy, compassion and conscientiousness of others’ emotions
Enhanced immune system functioning
Increased brain density and neural integration in areas responsible for positive emotions, self-regulation, and long-term planning
Lowered blood pressure
Lowered levels of blood cortisol (a major stress hormone)
Greater resistance to stress-related illnesses such as heart disease
Increased self-insight and self-acceptance
Increased acceptance of others
Increased compassion and empathy
Increased sense of morality, intuition, and courage to change
Increased control over automatic behaviors
The question is: how many of us would like to benefit from mindfulness if it provides these positive benefits? All of us should strive to lower our stress level and enjoy our daily lives with a more positive attitude and more attentiveness. So, how can we incorporate this into our lives? The majority of this practice is about familiarizing yourself with what it feels like to be mindful, and getting better at “remembering” to maintain mindful awareness.
Experiment with creating your own mindfulness practices throughout your day. Being mindful of the sensation on the soles of your feet as you walk to your car or the taste and texture of your morning coffee can transform routine moments into deeply satisfying practices. However, having a ritualized and structured practice can be beneficial. To find out more about practicing mindfulness and how to incorporate a more structured practice in your life visit http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu, Publication # FCS2335 – Mindfulness: An Introduction.