Mindfulness has been a saving grace in my life. As someone who has experienced anxiety and depression from an early age, mindfulness is what alleviated so many of my overwhelming emotions; emotions that I otherwise didn’t know how to deal with.
When I was 8 years old, I vividly remember my first panic attack. I was at a Girl Scout sleep over and I had no idea what it was, other than a horrible feeling that shook me to my core, made me literally sick & induced a state of complete panic. Looking back at it now, I can identify what it was that I experienced. Especially since I experienced so many of these panic attacks throughout my adolescence into adulthood.
When I was 15 years old, my dad took me to my first Tony Robbins seminar were I was able to walk across 1000 degree coals and not get burned. This experience was life altering for me because I got to experience how powerful my mind truly is. Overcoming my fear to walk on fire was the first time I consciously and mindfully overcame a strong episode of anxiety.
Fast forward 15 years and I have a down-pat mindfulness routine that I use regularly. I used to feel like my world was coming to an end with overwhelming feelings of panic and depression, but I thankfully no longer experience these. There were other important aspects of my healing like a healthy diet and therapy. However, it was mindfulness that allowed me to best utilize my mind to work in my favor instead of against me like it had been. Before I go into exactly what that routine is and how it can benefit you, lets go into what mindfulness actually is…
According to the Greater Good Magazine at Berkeley, mindfulness can be defined as:
“…maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
What does mindfulness mean in the midst of a busy day, a panic attack or a super low valley?
It means breathing deeply, counting your breaths, then breathing more deeply. Mindfulness is feeling what’s going on in your legs and your arms, your heart and your stomach. It means accepting the feelings you are currently feeling and being gentle on yourself about them. It’s being okay with where you are even if you previously deemed that place as unacceptable. We need to give ourselves the most grace, understanding and love when we are in these valley’s. Mindfulness is creating a safe space that supports our beings in the fullest way.
Whatever you may be experiencing is there for a reason. Mindfulness provides you with the doorway into figuring out what that reason is, without judgement. You don’t put a right or wrong title on what you’re feeling. It just is. And when it just is, you’re able to explore the grounds and move through it.
The benefits of mindfulness when practiced regularly:
1. Reduces stress
2. More balanced emotional states + less fight/flight reactivity
4. Better memory
5. Higher immune function
6. Enhanced ability to deal with life’s stressors
7. Decreases anxiety and depression symptoms
8. More acceptance of self & others
9. Overall more joyful state
10. Ability to see clearer in situations that would once be fogged over with emotions
These are honestly only 10 of some of the amazing benefits. I have experienced every one of these and more. And the great part is that there’s an increasing amount of science behind the benefits and efficacy of mindfulness practices, which you can read about here. You’ll find mindfulness in jails, in schools and in nursing homes. It’s a beautiful thing when we begin to see through a conscious eye, and not a reactive one.
So how can you incorporate mindfulness into your life? Below are my top 5 ways:
1. Mindfulness Meditations: This type of meditation simply means dedicating x amount of time to sitting or laying in a quiet place with no distractions. Start with 2 minutes and work your way up to an hour if you’d like. During this time, you’ll go through your body and check in with how you’re feeling; truly getting present and becoming aware of what’s going on in your body. You’ll take deep breaths. There’s a million and one ways to do this type of meditation. Downloading a meditation app like Insight Timer or Headspace are super user friendly and easy to use, especially for beginners.
2. Set affirmative reminders on your phone: This is one of my favorite things to do. I use my phone calendar to set affirmations that pop up every day at the same time. So in the midst of a busy day, when I check my phone, I can read a loving reminder from myself to breathe and bring my awareness back to my center.
3. Breathe: Seems almost too simple, but the power that lies in your breath is truly unparalleled. We hold our breath when we’re nervous or when we’re angry and we breath shallow when we’re crying. This is like a half of a hug with someone. What has the super potential to fill us up are long deep breaths. Just like a big bear hug feels so wonderful and it fills your soul, so will your breath. If emotion starts to come up, don’t stop it. This is GREAT. Allow yourself to feel the uncomfortable emotions and accept them. Cry all the tears if you need to. It will clear and the scary part of feeling that emotion won’t be so scary anymore.
4. Get into nature: Even if this is a walk around your block or work place, get outside. Look at a tree and it’s roots and leaves, feel the grass, smell a flower, walk barefoot on the Earth. Nature makes mindfulness super easy and accessible. You’re focusing on the beauty that is around you, in that moment. This allows your heart to open and gratitude to flow. Anxiety and depression closed my heart and blocked my ability to connect with others. Mindfulness achieves the opposite.
5. Write it out: Whatever you are feeling, write it down exactly as you are feeling in that moment. Just let the words flow. They can be as intense as you need them to be and use your strength to push down on the pen. This is what you’re feeling right now and it goes back to accepting what you are experiencing. You are providing yourself a safe and loving place to express yourself, just like you would provide to your children.
Just like the endless amount of benefits mindfulness can provide, there’s an endless amount of ways one can practice. Do you have a favorite routine or trick that you incorporate into your life? I’d love to hear them all!