Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Overworked? Under-appreciated? Out of touch with the things that are important to you? Do you find yourself wishing parts of your life away, or telling yourself “I can really start living just as soon as … (fill in the blank)”?
If so, there’s one surprisingly simple thing that can help. It’s not a pill, or even a vacation. It’s called mindfulness, and it can bring ease of mind into even your most stressful day.
Very simply put, mindfulness mean paying attention to your life – every part of your life, even the stressful parts. The human tendency is to shut down when things become stressful. We don’t want to deal with things that upset us, so we block them out. Unfortunately, this can become a habit. Soon, we’re only half-present in our lives. Even when we’re in the midst of something we enjoy – a delicious meal or playing with the kids – our minds are often somewhere else, thinking about that big meeting at work or worrying about that noise the car was making yesterday. This, more than any single stressor, is often the root of our feelings of disconnection and exhaustion.
Luckily, we can retrain our minds to be present in our lives. It takes practice, though. Many people do so through a regular meditation practice, but you can start to work on being more mindful right within the context of your everyday life.
The easiest place to start is with activities you enjoy. Start with your morning cup of coffee, a nice warm bath, or a walk in the woods. Pay attention to what your senses are telling you. What do you taste, smell, hear, see, and feel, both physically and emotionally? If your mind starts spinning, worrying about the future or fixating on something that happened in the past, just refocus your attention to the present moment. It doesn’t mean you can never plan for the future or remember the past, but right now you are focusing on the present.
Once you’ve learned to truly enjoy the pleasurable things in your life, you can start to pay attention during everyday tasks, such as washing the windows or putting away the dishes. Stop to actually smell the flowers in your garden, instead of just frenetically weeding them. When you truly focus on the task at hand, instead of thinking about all of the other things you’d rather be doing with your time, you may find that you don’t actually mind wiping down the counters or vacuuming the carpet nearly as much as you once did.
Mental health professionals often recommend mindfulness practice to help with everything from anxiety and depression to sleep disorders. The more you strive to be mindful in your day-to-day life, the easier it will become. But first, you have to start small. Why not start right now by taking a minute to stop and smell the flowers?