Curious about the true definition of mindfulness? Racing thoughts, trouble relaxing, worry filling your mind? Read more to find out how mindfulness can help you in everyday life.
(A 2 Part Series)
By KRISTY GARGANO, LSW
You’re standing in line at the store. You’re already in a hurry because you need to get to work on time for a meeting. You realize the person in front of you is not only buying items, but also has several returns, and this is the only lane open… Your head is racing with thoughts about yelling at the cashier to hurry up, and then about how you’re already on thin ice with your boss, and you become increasingly agitated. Caught up in your thoughts, you haven’t realized how tight your chest feels, and the fact that you’re taking short, shallow breaths. Instead of finding ways to calm yourself, you begin to sigh audibly so that the person in front of you, and the cashier might hear you. This, of course, doesn’t speed up the process.
Once you’ve left the store, you race to work, and there’s not one moment given to yourself to check in and slow down. The experience at the store sets the tone for your entire day, and you end up labeling it “a very bad day”. Can you relate to this experience at all? I know I can. And if you could see me, you’d see my hand raised with admission. In this scenario, were you being mindful? No. Was your mind full? Most definitely. I’m sure each one of you reading this can think of a different situation where you were stressed, anxious, or *insert strong emotion here*, and were so caught up in the negativity of the situation that it spilled over into other parts of your day. Can I tell you a secret? It happens to most of us, if not all. The most challenging part, I think, is what happens after we realize how we reacted or responded to situations. Typically, self-judgement sets in, and it takes us even further away from a mindful state.
What is mindfulness?
So, what is mindfulness? Jon Kabat-Zinn explains it as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Looking back at the above scenario, if you are thinking about what already happened, or what’s to come, you are stuck in the past or thinking ahead to the future, not the present moment.
Ruminating about the past leads to → Depression
Overthinking and worrying about the future leads to → Anxiety
Focusing on the here and now leads to → Awareness, contentment, stillness, being able to settle into whatever is happening in the moment, and much more.
You may be considering, “But Kristy, thinking about the past and future is unavoidable”, and to some degree you are right! We need time to reflect back and plan for our futures. It’s when the past and future get in the way of our living in the here and now that we notice trouble. Don’t worry, this happens to all of us. It is the very second we notice our mind has wandered that we are being mindful. That is what it means to practice mindfulness. The more we bring awareness to our wandering mind in a gentle and kind way, the more we gain control of it. Practicing mindfulness is not a one-and-done kind of deal. That’s why many people call it a “practice”, because it takes repetitive application, and it becomes easier and easier to recognize when you are not being mindful the more you apply it.
Why Mindfulness is Trending
Mindfulness has grown in popularity over the years because, when practiced consistently, it gives results. Mindfulness practices, some of which I will cover more in the coming blog post, have evidence-based research backing its ability to decrease depression, anxiety, and pain, among other things. I have personally found mindfulness has helped me feel more grounded, more aware of the little joys in life, and most importantly, how my body communicates with me in subtle ways that I never noticed before.