Making Mindfulness Work For You: The How-To
To handle stress and the uncertainties around us, we often need that creative, analytical part of the brain to open. Mindfulness is the key to make that switch.
Mindfulness seems to have become like a new mantra for our society today, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic having a huge impact on the mental wellness of the population at large. But what does it actually mean? Here’s a primer.
If someone came up and asked you to describe how you walk, you’d probably struggle to articulate it. If you observe a child, you will see the act of walking in slow motion. As a child, you struggle to stand in the beginning, and then you get your balance right, and soon, you learn to walk without falling. As you grow older, walking is almost like an involuntary action, the process of which has gone to the subconscious part of the brain. This is a good thing, as your brain makes space to learn new things.
To consciously recall the act of walking is nothing but mindfulness. While walking, we do a lot of our day-to-day thinking, feeling like we are in auto-pilot, trying to learn more and get more from life. But if we do not get the balance right, which is often the case, we get overwhelmed with the excess around us, putting us in a constant stress mode. And when stressed, our brain can only work on a reactive fight or flight mode, totally shutting the creative thinking and problem-solving part of our brain. But to handle stress and the uncertainties around us, we often need that creative, analytical part of the brain to open. Mindfulness is the key to make that switch.
Let us break it down further. Stress is known to cause inflammation, and that’s what causes lifestyle diseases. As the name suggests, this is a long list of physical ailments starting from niggling aches and pain in the body for no apparent reason, to sleep-related issues and disorders, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues. Look around and notice the number of people suffering with diabetes, for example- it’s more of the younger population than ever before.
The good news is such lifestyle diseases are reversable, when the stress is removed from the equation. Of course, the stress around you is not going to disappear, but the way you address and handle it is key. There are a lot of mindfulness exercises and activities that one can practice regularly. It will help break the stress mindset you have created as a habit. When you can handle the stress around with a grounded confident attitude, it makes you, and, in turn, your cells, calm.
With the pandemic, work-life balance has become a greater challenge. There is a strong fear factor governing us, especially of the unknown future, which adds to our stress and anxiety. Stress also creates mental illnesses, right from work fatigue to various forms of depression, and it is become more common during the pandemic. This situation is not going to disappear soon though, and as such, using some mindfulness techniques can help you regain the confidence to face the chaos and fear around you.
For instance, have you noticed how you breathe? Many of us shallow breathe. Try focusing on taking a deep slow breath from your nostrils, all the way into the stomach. Feel the air travel. As it reaches your stomach and occupies space, it must expand your stomach, much like a balloon with air. Try holding on for a few seconds. Now breathe out even more slowly, trying to slowly push all that air from the stomach out through your nostrils. And there you go- congratulations on your first mindful exercise!
All it takes is around 30 seconds at the beginning. You can do it sitting, standing, walking. Try to stay tall when doing it. It offers your brain the much-needed pause to switch from stress to zen state. It is here that you come up with solutions, acceptance, flexibility- all of which are indicative of a growth mindset, which allows you to be adaptable and confident, while also tackling your problems head-on, extending your comfort zone a little, learning from mistakes, and expanding your perspective. It helps you use empathy and connect more with people. In short, it leads you to a path to define your own success in a holistic way, where happiness is a natural outcome.
Some more easy mindfulness practices I’d suggest include brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or even taking a nice five-minute-long tea or coffee break, just drinking from your cup, looking at the fumes coming from it, and relishing every sip. Another idea would be when you’re driving, try taking a different route to head back home- or simply just notice the font in the speedometer. Or perhaps try to walk on grass or sand occasionally, or just look out of your window to notice the leaves, flowers, birds, etc. All such activity breaks are nothing but mindfulness practices that, even if for a moment, brings your awareness to the present, and it’s just what your brain needs to open its creative, intuitive, problem-solving side.