What are you doing right now?
Reading a blog post, yes. Reviewing your schedule? Worrying about a bill? Mentally rehashing a fight and brainstorming clever things you could have said?
Mental multitasking is typical, but more and more, science favors the opposite: mindfulness.
Mindfulness, simply defined, is being intentionally present in a moment without wishing it were different. That means not ruminating about the past or thinking about the future. You don’t have to pull out your yoga mat, head to the beach, or take in a mountain vista, but you’ll probably have to put down your phone.
According to studies, the rewards of mindfulness include:
- Greater ability to manage your feelings and moods
- Fewer distracting thoughts
- Decreased depression and anxiety
- Help in reducing chronic pain
- Better immune responses
Dr. Bojana Jankovic, a primary care doctor at Cedars-Sinai, embraced mindfulness to manage her own stressful life. Now she recommends mindfulness skills to her patients, especially those managing chronic illness or anxiety.
The first step is simple. “Breathe,” Jankovic says. “I will sometimes ask them right there in the office to take deep breaths.”
The only cost involved in mindfulness is your time, she points out—and it’s time well-spent.
Want to give it a try?
Here’s how you can start your own mindfulness practice:
- Take a breather. Set aside 5 minutes a day for deep breathing. Jankovic suggests breathing in for a count of 7, then exhaling for a count of 7. Focus on your breath, and when your thoughts stray to work, a conflict, or some other distraction, bring your mind back to your breath. If 5 minutes feels like too long, start with a shorter amount of time and work up to it.
- Observe without judging. Take in your surroundings, noticing shapes, colors, textures and scents. Use your senses, and avoid judging what you see as good or bad, beautiful or ugly. Jankovic likes to practice this outside. One idea: Take a small object, like a leaf, and try to identify every detail in it.
- Notice your thoughts and emotions. As you practice mindfulness, thoughts and feelings will arise. Acknowledge them, label them, and refocus on the moment: Notice your breathing, your posture, the position of your body.
- Check in with yourself. Do you have pain you’ve been ignoring? Are you fuming over something that happened earlier in your day? Jankovic recommends journaling, reflecting on what happened and how your body reacted. Evaluate your mood before and after your mindfulness activities and note the difference.
- Be patient with yourself and the process. You’re likely to wonder if you’re doing it right. As with all thoughts that creep in, acknowledge it, then bring yourself back to the present.
If you don’t feel relaxed while practicing mindfulness, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. The goal is to be fully aware of the present moment, which isn’t always relaxing. Letting go of frets about the past and worries about the future contributes to reducing your overall stress.