Written by Molly Swanberg
Mindfulness: It is a skill that most of us have heard of, but few of us truly use. For those of us who have not formally studied meditation, the concept of mindfulness may seem confusing or “too difficult.” In reality, however, being mindful is quite simple and can be incredibly beneficial in dealing with all sorts of mental struggles, including anxiety. Here I will attempt to explain mindfulness in the simplest terms my brain can muster.
Mindfulness means focusing on one thing at a time. Period. If you are driving a car, mindfulness involves focusing on driving the car – e.g., noticing the scenery of the road ahead of you, feeling the sensation of the steering wheel in your hands, and tuning in to any perceptions that one experiences while engaged in the act of driving. It is NOT mindful to think about all of the tasks you need to accomplish that day or worry about your next job interview. Our minds are incredible in their ability to be in many places at once – put simply: mindfulness is cutting out the noise and staying in the moment.
Now, the practice of mindfulness is a little trickier but also within reach. It may not come natural at first but like many things in life, the more you practice the better you will get. Someone once said to me that mindfulness is like a muscle, the more you use it the stronger it becomes. I have found this to be true in my own practice. So where do we start? What is the easiest way to dive into this world of the present? Here are two mindfulness meditations that will only take one precious minute out of your day.
First, set a timer for one minute. All of those smartphones have timers on them, so no excuses! Now, close your eyes and listen to your environment. Pay attention to all of the unique sounds that are going on around you. You may be amazed at how much noise there is in even the quietest of places. Your mind may wander during this minute – that is OK and it is totally natural and expected. All I ask is that when your mind wanders, notice it, do not judge it or get angry with yourself, simply refocus on the sounds of the room. Do this refocusing as many times as necessary before the minute is up.
Here’s a very similar exercise that is even easier. This one can help when you are tossing and turning at night, unable to sleep because you are worried and anxious. First, focus on your own breathing. Take several long slow breaths in, and long slow exhalations. Allow yourself to truly feel and experience the physical sensation of breathing. When your mind wanders back to the anxious thought, gently notice that it happened and revisit your breathing. I am pretty sure every time I have done this I have fallen asleep within 15 minutes. Not only is deep breathing relaxing, it’s kind of boring. I don’t know about you guys but boring things make me fall asleep.
Ok, now go practice! I know you have one minute in your busy schedule to give this a shot. Remember, the more you use it the easier it becomes, and the effort is worth it because these exercises can be very useful in managing anxiety. In fact, if you are truly being mindful and living in the moment it is actually impossible to be anxious. Amazing!