By Sarah Jeanne Browne—
Stressed and struggling? If you are having a hard day, and you can’t get out of your own head, mindfulness may be for you. You can’t always turn the mind off. That’s not what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness is a way to release mental tension and anxiety, savor the small things and turn turmoil into trust in the unknown. It’s also a way to regain clarity along with a childlike wonder for life.
How do you break free from a negativity loop and fear-based thinking? Stillness, silence and meditative practices will get you there. Overthinking and negative thought patterns can be changed by becoming mindful. Deepak Chopra says, “Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there.” Go to the space between your thoughts and rest. Become mindful no matter what.
In other words, a good place to start to get yourself grounded and regulated is a Mindfulness Makeover.
Disclosure: Consult with a professional for getting mental health help; this article is not meant to replace professional help or advice.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is intentional attention to the moment…it’s a present state of mind. This can be achieved through meditation, or even while you are doing any activity. It’s not escapism; it’s emptying your mind of anything that does not serve you. It’s watching your thoughts – becoming the observer to them. You don’t have to do anything, just be present. Mindfulness aids you in letting go so you can live your life.
When you make room for simply being, you start to take in what’s really important in life. You put down your defense mechanisms and your heart’s armor to truly feel what matters most. That’s why mindfully working through your problems can make such a difference.
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Things aren’t always going to be easy. Sometimes, things are hard, and it’s okay to acknowledge that they are hard. Don’t try to figure it all out. Let the answer come to you, rather than trying to force it. Surrender. That way, you are prepared and proactive about life.
There is something called an “amygdala hijack” coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman, in which during fight/flight responses of the brain kicking in, the amygdala is overactive and you overreact. The amygdala detects danger, and sometimes, identifies something as dangerous that really isn’t. This is seen in trauma and PTSD patients. They rely on flight/fight/freeze responses, and the trauma response meant to be temporary for a dangerous moment can last. It can stay with the person easily triggered, even when the perceived threat is over. Mindfulness intercepts this response and creates higher emotional intelligence and controls your reactions.
“Mindfulness practices dampen activity in our amygdala and increase the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex,” according to Greater Good Magazine. That means stress reduction in how the brain responds to stress. In other words, stress less!
That means that if you are mindful, you are peaceful.
According to John Teasdale, PH.d, becoming mindful is about removing yourself from the rumination that causes negative thought patterns, which lead to depression. He says, “Being mindful is a way to weaken the grip of these thought streams.” He also notes that it’s not difficult to be mindful. Rather, what’s difficult for depressed people is to remember to be mindful. There is also mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and it blends therapeutic practices that you can also do with a therapist if you cannot achieve mindfulness on your own. If anything, MBCT helps you to know when you are depressed and identify the negative thoughts, knowing even if in that moment you cannot stop them, that they will pass. This aids in recovery.
Due to neuroplasticity, the brain adapts to the messages you send it, creating an “ability to function mindfully.” Found in fMRI scans, during mindfulness, the brain also increases activity in higher functioning abilities and reduces activity in the brain area addressing “stress and strong emotions” Memory and decision making is also improved.
Mindfulness not only helps with cognition. It boosts immunity and helps with chronic pain. It also lowers blood pressure. It decreases heart rate and blood pressure with daily practice. It aids in a good night’s sleep, too.
Adopt a Mindful Mindset
Mantras can be helpful way to become mindful. An example is a radical acceptance mantra, “I accept what is.” This stops judgment and begins observation, so you can find gratitude and resilience in your mindfulness practice. If you accept something, you can also do something about it.
When you are mindful and accepting the present, you enter a stillness or doing nothing-ness. Give yourself the gift of doing nothing, leaning only into awareness of awareness itself. Be Awareness itself. When you look at things mindfully, you pay attention to what is true and what isn’t. Your attachment to the outcome also starts to fade. You look at everything as an opportunity. You become like water, through following the past of least resistance and going with the flow, adapting accordingly.
It’s easy to want to keep fighting or striving for more when the answer is right in front of you. It’s easy for it to never feel like you have enough.
What is “enough?” When you cannot get full, get mindful. The quest to have enough is a trap that makes you think you have to acquire more to be worthwhile. You’ll never get fulfilled that way. Less is the lesson here. Put it all down and focus on your true calling. Center yourself.
That is true mindfulness.
Grounding for Mindfulness
Grounding is about focusing on the senses so you can be present. When you ground yourself, you find yourself. Grounding is a great mindfulness technique. It goes like this- 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 countdown:
Find 5 things you can see.
Find 4 things you can touch.
Find 3 things you can hear.
Find 2 things you can smell.
Find 1 thing you can taste.
You can ground yourself when you are walking down the street or stuck in traffic. You can ground yourself when you are having an emotional moment or distress. You can ground yourself when you are simply doing the dishes or cleaning your house. You can ground yourself when you have to say goodbye to someone you love, like a loss and the grief overwhelms you. And you can ground yourself when you don’t know how to stop ruminating and overthinking, when your negative thought patterns continue to interrupt your day.
Grounding can also happen in the form of mantras that you repeat to yourself. When you make a grounding statement, you also pull yourself into a stronger awareness or intention of who you want to be. An example of a grounding statement is “I will be here now.” If you repeat this to yourself, you draw yourself into the present. You figure out what you have been missing. You live for the moment, not worrying about the uncertainty of what is to come. Grounding is when you simply let go. You stop worrying. You check in with yourself. You say, “I’m doing alright because I can choose my response to this moment.”
According to Insight Timer, research says that “the brain simply works better when relaxed.” When you are calm and collected, you have a greater chance for success. You don’t need to react to every thought or feeling. Grounding is just one way to hold space for yourself. When you are in harmony with yourself and the world around, there’s nothing you can’t do.
Open Awareness Meditation
In Matthew Sockolov’s Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations, there is a meditation called an “Open Awareness Meditation.” It starts much like grounding, and if you find yourself becoming distracted during it, you can actually ground yourself to bring back focus.
With this meditation which is about opening yourself to the awareness of yourself as a whole, you do a body scan from head to toe becoming mindfully aware of the body, then become aware of sensations in the body. Next, you focus on what you can hear. Spend five minutes noting bodily sensations and sounds.
When you have done this, you then turn introspective. Open up so that you pay attention to the experience of the mind. “You may see thoughts, emotional experiences, or general metal states” according to Sockolov. This is an observer mentality. You take a step back and simply become a witness to within.
Lastly, pay attention to feelings that arise. What are they? Where do they come from? Does your mind react to them? If so, how? The mind’s reaction is also made to be pulled into awareness.
This meditation is for 25 minutes, but it’s meant to be a mentality. You open up your inner world. You experience the mind, body, the soul all at once. And what do you do about it?
Sit with it. Use your intrigue, your curiosity to motivate you to find meaning in it. Find some time for yourself, just to become aware.
Anchor Yourself with Breath
The most common way to become mindful is to anchor yourself with your breath. Psychology Today says that deep breathing stimulates the “vagus nerve – which can reduce stress, anxiety, anger, and inflammation by activating the ‘relaxation response’ of your parasympathetic nervous system.”
You can do this with diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing. Sit in a comfortable position. Put your hand on your stomach, and when you breathe in, let your belly rise. Then, when you breathe out, let it sink. This is a simple way to activate the vagus nerve, slow your heart beat, interrupt the fight/flight response and find some solace in your slow abdominal breathing.
One technique is Rip Stretch Breathing. According to Healthline, you “stand up straight and arch your back.” Next, breath out until all breath is out. Then, breath in until you can’t anymore. Hold your breath for 10 seconds. Finally, breathe out slowly through your mouth.
You can do Simple Slow Breathing, where you just breathe deeply, by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
There are more breathing techniques to try. If you are trying to be mindful, try deep breathing and let yourself fill up and release all tension. Relax your shoulders, your jaw, your tension all through your body, which should help.
Other Mindfulness Tips and Techniques
Want more mindfulness techniques? Here are just a few:
- Guided Meditation: Mimi Page’s Reflection. There are also apps like Calm, Headspace or the free app, Insight Timer.
- Walking Meditation: Walk outside, or anywhere, and let your thoughts just go.
- Mindful during the mundane: Be thankful during tasks. Find gratitude each step of the way as you complete something. Thank the sun for shining, for life itself and for things like the sheets you fold because they warm your body at night. Thank yourself for getting this far. And give mindful attention to each activity.
- Gratitude in general: If you are grateful for what you have, you pay mindful attention to it. Gratitude is a great way to remind yourself that you are alive, and that’s what counts. Place your hand on your heart and feel this. Try it now. What better time to start than the present?
Mindfulness is recognizing the present truly is a gift.
It’s something that you give yourself. You pause for one moment, and take in what is good. You get grounded, you meditate, you become aware of what is around you and pull yourself out of your problems to get a better perspective.