Mindfulness is defined as a mental state you reach by focusing all of your awareness on the present moment. You don’t linger on the past or worry about the future — you simply become more aware of the moment, analyzing your feelings. I try my very best to live a mindful life, but it’s not always easy when you’re juggling a job, a marriage and children — especially when you’ve only got two hands.
If your mindfulness slips away for a moment, don’t feel bad — we all have these un-mindful moments that throw us for a loop. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help you deal with your un-mindful moments the same way I learned to deal with mine.
Clinging to the Past
Anxiety and mindfulness are not good bedfellows — mindfulness encourages focus on the present while anxiety tends to make you linger on past mistakes, turning them into an unhealthy obsession. I do it too. I worry about whether I made a good impression on someone, or I frantically overanalyze a mistake I’ve made or a conversation I had to determine if I made a fool of myself or not.
Being able to let go of the past is one of the things that makes mindfulness so difficult for someone like me who deals with anxiety. I have to consciously make myself be mindful in those moments, or I will spend all day worrying about something that I’ve now got no control over.
When you find yourself in one of those situations where the past is sneaking up on you, take a few minutes — or more if you need it — and find your center again. Actively focus on being mindful in that moment. Eventually it will become second nature to you, like mental muscle memory, and it will be much easier to deal with those moments where the past sneaks up on you.
Stressing About the Future
Stressing about the future is very similar to stressing about the past — the only difference is you probably feel like you have more control over the events or actions you’re worried about. While you’re not totally wrong, there is still no reason to focus on that stress, especially when the event you’re worried about is days or weeks away.
Mindfulness can be useful for reducing the stress you feel — one study found that regular mindful thought helped reduce stress in adults.
For me, I separate the things I’m worried about into three categories — things I can control, things I only have partial control over and things I have no control over. The first two categories deserve my attention, though it tends to make it harder to be mindful sometimes. The last category, though, I can ignore — I will be aware of the upcoming event, but I try not to let it affect my mindfulness.
Being Mindful With Kids
First, let me say this — I love my daughter. She is my entire world. That being said, she is the biggest enemy to my mindfulness, especially when she’s trying my patience.
Focusing on my mindfulness actually makes me a better mom, though. This isn’t just me tooting my own horn — I’m actually backed up by science. A study from the University of Vermont found that parents who practice mindfulness utilize more positive parenting behaviors and spend more time with their kids. We all spend time with our kids, but mindful parents focus on being there in the moment with their full focus on their little ones.
This isn’t designed to disparage parents who don’t practice mindfulness. I just find that practicing mindfulness for myself and using it in my parenting makes me a more attentive mom. That might not work for everyone, but it does for us.
Focusing on Yourself
One thing that mindfulness really allows you to do is to focus on yourself. If you’re a parent, someone with a full-time job or both, you’ve always got someone demanding a part of your attention. How long has it been since you stepped away from your responsibilities and did something especially for yourself?
Mindfulness has been shown to be a useful tool in treating a variety of conditions, including mental illnesses, depression and anxiety. Even if you’ve never been diagnosed with any of these conditions, it has still been shown to reduce stress, and even to help change your mind — a study published in Psychiatry Research found that practicing mindfulness helps increase the density of the gray matter in your brain, specifically in regions that deal with emotion and empathy.
As I’ve already mentioned, I deal with anxiety, and I’ve found that practicing mindfulness has made it simpler, if not easier, to handle my anxiety attacks when they occur. By focusing on the moment I’m in, I can allow the anxiety to wash over me instead of overwhelming me.
Getting Started With Mindfulness
If you’ve decided you want to try mindfulness, good for you. If you’re not sure where to start, I’m here to help. All you need is 15 minutes and enough willpower to shut the door and turn off your phone for the duration.
Start by meditating. Sit, take some deep, controlled breaths and allow your thoughts to make their way in and out of your mind just as your breath is making its way in and out of your lungs.
The idea here isn’t to turn you into some sort of guru — it’s to help you slow down. Our world moves at a mind-bogglingly fast pace. It doesn’t leave us a lot of room to slow down and take care of ourselves. Mindfulness does just that — you get the opportunity to slow down and focus on your thoughts, even if it’s just for a few minutes every day.
It’s important to recognize that mindfulness isn’t a cure-all. It’s just a tool that enables you to face your day on a more even keel. Those un-mindful moments we all face in our lives are just that — moments. They’re something to be experienced and stored away for future reference. Don’t linger on them, and don’t beat yourself up over them. Even the most mindful person on the planet has un-mindful moments occasionally. It’s just part of being human.