No matter what you’re busy with, these calming strategies will take you through your day mindfully so you can enjoy the moment, says psychologist Emma Kenny…
Many of us rush through our days on fast forward, running from one event or chore to the next. In fact, Harvard researchers have found we spend up to 50% of our lives distracted by past and future concerns, and this constant frenetic activity taxes both our brains and our bodies. A solution? The daily practice of being mindful. Stemming from Buddhism, having gratitude for the moment is seen as a foundation of happiness. The benefits have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, and improve sleep, lower blood pressure and even ease pain. When you’re mindful you observe your thoughts and feelings without judging them good or bad. It takes practise, but these easy exercises can help you enjoy each moment of your day.
Set your alarm 10 minutes earlier to allow yourself to simply sit somewhere cosy and just see how you feel in your mind and body. Close your eyes and allow your thoughts to wash over you – if you experience any tension, acknowledge it. Then, check in with your breath and its rhythm for a minute or two, and relax. This sets your intention to enjoy the day.
On the road
If you drive to work, park 10 minutes further away so you incorporate walking outside as part of your daily mindful ritual. Connecting with nature helps you feel part of something greater, allowing you to gain perspective. As you walk, engage with your natural surroundings, from the wind as it rustles your hair, to the smells and sights you take in.
With your friends and your family
Try a random act of kindness: whether it’s grabbing a coffee for a colleague, sending a bunch of flowers to a friend spontaneously, or telling your husband how much you appreciated him doing the school run. These small acts are psychologically proven to make you feel better about your life, while also automatically making someone else feel valued in the process. It’s a win-win!
In the queue
When you find yourself in line at the licensing department, bank or shops, or in a traffic jam, instead of cursing the time you are wasting, see it as an opportunity to be still and to check in with how you’re feeling, while taking some deep and calming breaths. Notice the people around you and generate compassionate positive wishes towards them. You will feel surprisingly joyful as a result – honest!
At a social event
The next time you’re catching up with friends, take a few minutes to share a mini-meditation called Three Good Things. It’s a simple exercise that cultivates an awareness of positive moments in your lives. Each person simply states three positive events that have happened that day. It only takes a few minutes, but it fosters a real appreciation of the everyday that elevates it – by doing this, you may find that even a bad day has its benefits.
Make time to just listen to you
Whenever you feel a negative emotion, instead of trying to ignore, deny or avoid it, listen to what it’s trying to teach you. Emotions are there to teach us what we need to know and are there to prompt us to take the necessary action. Although it can be uncomfortable, it’s important to pay attention. For example, when we are afraid, we are being told to seek courage; when we feel trapped, we are being advised to remove obstacles so we can achieve the freedom we desire. Maybe it’s time to move on from a relationship or apply for a more challenging job? Sitting with difficult emotions and just listening makes it easier to process discomfort, and practice makes perfect.
Leave your technology switched off for 10 minutes at a time. Often, we feel time-poor, but we choose to scroll through social media looking at other people’s lives and wasting precious minutes that we could be spending on ourselves. So leave your phone at work during lunch to create some real (not cyber) space that will help you feel present and connected to the here and now.
The most basic mindfulness in practice is to focus on your breathing and, whenever you notice your mind wandering, to bring it back to your breath. It’s the same with focusing on one task at a time at your desk and completing it. If you get distracted, take a deep breath and get back to the job at hand. Also, make an effort to smile at the people around you – it increases positivity instantly and transforms predictable days into happier ones.
Breakfast is especially important, so start your day with nourishment and good nutrients. But preparing every meal is an opportunity to squeeze in a mindfulness meditation. Focus on your breath while you inhale and exhale deeply and, if your thoughts start to run away, just bring them back to focusing on breathing. When you sit and eat, notice how food smells and tastes, and how it feels in your mouth. Thinking purposefully about what your body needs and then appreciating each mouthful will make the experience more enjoyable and, secondly, will ensure you only eat what you need, so it’s fab for keeping trim.
Keep a gratitude jar. At the end of every day, make sure that you write down three things that you are grateful for and one thing that you have struggled with, but that you have learnt from. This will make you notice all the little things that make your life the miracle it is. Writing it down helps you to appreciate it.
Going to bed
Create a bedtime ritual that feels full of self-care – you deserve it! It’s also the key to quietening a racing mind to prepare your body for sleep. Make sure you use candles, aromatherapy and lots of bath bubbles to create a Zen-like luxury experience. This is an inexpensive way of allowing your physical body the pampering it deserves, while permitting the emotional self to fully relax. Even cleaning your teeth can act as an informal mindful practice and means that you are ready for bed feeling clean, rested and relaxed.
Before you go to sleep, make sure that you practise mindful breathing: start by taking an exaggerated breath, a deep inhale through your nostrils (three seconds), hold your breath (two seconds), and a long exhale through your mouth (four seconds). Simply observe each breath without trying to adjust it; it may help to focus on the rise and fall of your chest, or the sensation through your nostrils. As you do so, you may find that your mind starts to wander, distracted by thoughts or bodily sensations. That’s OK. Just notice that this is happening and gently bring your attention back to your breath. As you lie in bed, bring awareness to the physical sensations in the body – start with your toes and move attention slowly upward. By the time you reach your head, you’ll be ready to doze off.