Mindfulness has health benefits
How often in your week do you find yourself unaware of what you did just moments before? Do you sometimes forget stretches of driving only to find yourself at your destination without remembering the specifics of how you got there?
The human mind excels at automating functions so we don’t have to think about them. We can operate a car without having to think about pushing the pedals or turning a key. We can make our morning coffee with little thought. We can even move quickly through the grocery store once we know the store layout.
While these habitual actions can be a positive thing, they sometimes lead to ineffective thought patterns or ways of doing things. Moreover, we can find ourselves responding to events or problems without giving them their due thought.
Decrease stress, increase resilience
One antidote to this habitual lifestyle is mindfulness, or a “present” state of awareness. It allows you to focus, with purpose and without judgement, on thoughts, feelings and experiences. This practice lets us be truly present in the moment, which frees us up to be more flexible, creative and resilient. The benefits of mindfulness include stress reduction and improved quality of life.
Add mindfulness practice into your day
If you’re ready to try mindfulness, start with the STOP exercise:
- Stop for a moment and close your eyes.
- Take deep breaths. Become aware of your breathing: inhale and exhale
- Observe how your body feels. Are you warm? Cold? Does anything hurt? Where are your thoughts taking you?
- Perceive what is happening around you. Listen to sounds around you for a few moments before completing the mindfulness exercise.
Focus on your ability to be aware and present without labeling what you’re experiencing. For example, don’t get stressed if you notice that your head hurts. Just name the feeling and move on.
Another effective exercise uses the acronym ACE. This exercise uses three one-minute steps:
- Awareness — Pay attention to your thoughts, feelings and emotions in that very moment.
- Collecting — Collect your attention and focus it on your breathing.
- Expanding — Take your awareness deeper and notice the sensations you feel in your body.
Don’t despair if it doesn’t come easy
There is a high likelihood that you won’t make it through either exercise without your thoughts straying toward your to-do list. As human beings, we are focused on productivity and utilizing each moment. But this way of thinking also contributes to stress and anxiety, which can actually make us less productive.
Rather than giving up on the exercise, acknowledge that your mind is busy. Sometimes, this is all it takes to give your mind the space it may need to slow down. With regular practice, mindfulness becomes easier.
You can learn more about mindfulness and its benefits at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center.