Last week, I presented with my colleague, Julie C. Kull, LCSW, to the Student Services Department at Edgewood College. We provided them with an anxiety toolbox, and each of us (Julie and I) included our favorite anxiety reducers. Mindfulness was included, and the presentation got me thinking that I should share with others how I use mindfulness in my life. While it isn't easy, it is also less complicated than it appears, and can be practiced throughout the course of the day. For simplicity sake, let's consider mindfulness as living in the present moment. For more information, take a look at this article on mindfulness as I think it makes mindfulness understandable and applicable in everyday life.
So how do I stay in the present moment? Well, one thing that I have realized is that if I don't practice mindfulness regularly, it is hard to call upon it in times of stress to help me refocus and calm down. It's kind of like playing a sport or an instrument - if you don't practice, you can't suddenly play soccer well, or play the violin beautifully.
So, here is what I do:
1. Practice mindfulness everyday. I make it a part of my schedule, that way it is a priority for my self-care - up there with exercising, eating healthy, and staying connected to those that are important to me.
2. Incorporate mindfulness into an everyday activity. In an ideal world, I would make time to practice mindful meditation for 20-30 minutes each day; however, I have not managed to do that (yet). Instead, I have found that I am MOST LIKELY to practice mindfulness everyday if I do it while performing a task that I complete everyday. For me, this task is driving. So how do I do this while I'm driving? Rather than let me mind wander, I try to be present while driving. I direct my attention toward my posture, I notice where I'm driving and the things I see out my window, I check in with my breathing, and check my mirrors regularly. The good news is that I'm getting better at mindful driving, which I like to think is making me safer on the road, but even better, I'm able to call on my mindfulness at other times in my life.
3. Notice stress triggers and implement mindfulness. So after all that practice, I try to implement mindfulness in situations that I find stressful. For example, a stressful situation that I often find myself in is trying to get my kids out the door. I recognize stress related to getting out the door when my mind starts to race and think about being late, my body starts to feel rushed, and I say things to my kids like, "Hurry up, we're going to be late." When this happens, I try to take a deep breath and bring myself back to the present moment - where am I? (usually my house) how am I interacting with my kids? (usually I'm not my best self!) I acknowledge (without judgment) that being late, or the idea of it, creates stress for me, but then I think about how I want to interact with my kids in this situation, and I proceed accordingly. Sometimes I notice the stress right away, and other times, it might take a while. Whenever I notice it, I do my best to be mindful, and I usually find that I feel less stressed and more in control of my actions.
Best of luck to you on your mindfulness journey. I would love to hear back from you with any questions, thoughts, or ideas about how you use mindfulness in your life.