May 4th, 2020
Practicing Mindfulness for Reducing Stress and Negativity
Right now, life is stressful in a way that many of us have never experienced, or even imagined we could experience. We are concerned for not only our own health, but the health of people worldwide. The news and social media provide a constant stream of information and we don’t always know what we should trust. Many are out of work, experiencing financial strains, and worry about what will happen down the road. We are isolated from friends, family, and our favorite activities that we usually use to keep us physically and mentally healthy, including going to the gym or exercise classes. We might be looking for some new ways to cope with stress within the confines of our current lives. Mindfulness is a free and convenient way to work on reducing our stress and staying mentally well, and can be practiced pretty much anywhere and at any time.
Many people think that mindfulness requires an interest or practice in things like yoga or meditation, but that is not the case. Even though mindfulness is certainly an aspect of those activities, mindful thinking is its own activity. Mindfulness is essentially defined as paying attention to the present moment that you are in. It is thinking and acting with specific and realized purpose, and is a way of intentionally moving your thoughts away from stressful and negative ones into thoughts that you want to focus on. It helps drive our overly connected minds out of auto-pilot. Everyone has likely experienced moments where they stop to think, what was I even doing for the last ten minutes? We have probably all walked into the kitchen to get something, only to stop once we open the fridge and wonder what it was we came for, or watched a TV show and had to rewind because we weren’t paying attention to what just happened. These are examples of thinking in a way that is not mindful, and can contribute to stress and anxiety, inefficiency, and a lack of satisfaction in activities of daily life, hobbies, careers, or relationships.
Mindful thinking attempts to reset your brain into being aware of what you are doing or thinking about at that very moment. The goal is not total calm or relaxation, or a blank slate of a mind free of all bad thoughts. Instead, it is simply to realize and recognize what you are thinking or doing in that moment, and make a conscious choice of your next thought or action. While the actual act of practicing mindfulness is fairly simple, it can be tough to get used to at first. Practicing mindfulness can include taking a few minutes in the morning when you first wake up or before you go to bed at night to focus your thoughts on something of your choosing. You might dedicate your thoughts to an entire task without looking at your phone, in an effort to train your brain to be less concerned with immediately responding to an email or text that will interrupt you. It could also be something like picking a simple activity, such as washing dishes or brushing your teeth, and focusing your attention on just that activity until you have completed it, and paying attention to how your body and mind feel as you do that task rather than letting your mind wander or plan the next thing you will do. When you experience a stressful or negative thought, mindful thinking can help you acknowledge that you are having a bad thought or feeling, and then consciously choose how to respond to it. That response could be redirecting your thoughts to something more uplifting or deciding how you will cope with whatever is causing you stress. As you incorporate more mindful and purposeful thinking into your day, it will become easier and a more natural reaction to stress or negativity and can help you calm yourself and enhance your mood.
There are hosts of articles about mindfulness on the internet that can help answer questions you may have about practicing mindful thinking. There are also apps that can be downloaded to your phone if you are looking for more guidance as you work on mindfulness. If you have ever wondered whether mindful thinking is worth your while, now is a great time to give it a try!