It’s dark. The alarm is set, your phone is charging and you’ve just slipped under the covers. It’s been a long day, so you can’t wait to finally get some sleep. You close your eyes . . . and suddenly your mind is racing at a million miles a minute.
Lots of people have trouble switching off at the end of the day, but there is a solution. Practicing mindfulness will help you de-stress and bring some balance to your life. By being more mindful throughout the day, you’ll have less clutter to jumble around your head at night.
But what exactly is mindfulness, and how can it help you live a healthy, more balanced life?
What is mindfulness?
Buddhist monks have been practising mindfulness for 2,500 years, but it became popular in the west in the 1970s.
Mindfulness is all about achieving a relaxed awareness of your mind, body and surroundings. By paying full attention to the present moment, you are able to relieve yourself from the past and future stresses of your day.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Mindfulness has its roots in the spiritual, but its practical benefits are just as plentiful. From improving health to decreasing stress, these benefits continue to receive support from scientific studies.
- Increased mindfulness reduces production of the hormone cortisol, which is released in response to stress. Too much cortisol makes us feel stressed out, but it also has a slew of negative health effects. These include reducing bone formation and slowing down the time it takes for wounds to heal (Health Psychology).
- People who practice mindfulness take fewer sick days attributed to colds and other respiratory infections. Correlation isn’t necessarily causation, but it’s worth noting that they also typically experience less severe colds when they do become ill (University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health).
- Multiple studies have shown it to reduce depression symptoms in both children and pregnant women. It’s most likely related to the way meditation positively affects the brain (University of California, University of Michigan Health System).
Ways to be mindful in daily life
Not all of us have time for a mindfulness course or hours a day to clear our heads. Although it would certainly help, you don’t have to meditate for hours on end and hum “ommmm” over and over to be more mindful.
There are countless ways to be more mindful in daily life, no matter what you routine (or lack thereof) is like. Adopting just a few of these habits will leave you less stressed and more engaged in your day.
Your morning routine
- Wake up as naturally as possible.
Whether that’s ditching your aggressive alarm for the sounds of nature or installing more natural-looking lights, your brain and eyes will appreciate the gentle start to the day.
- Don’t tune out during your morning routine.
Actually pay attention to what you’re doing while brushing your teeth, and don’t always mindlessly listen to music while showering.
If you go through the morning as a zombie, you’ll view waking up as a chore and be at work before you know it.
- Cut out noise like TV in the background.
If you rely too heavily on external sources (e.g. TV, radio or social media) to make your morning more enjoyable, you’ll miss out on all the early hours have to offer: a calm house, the rising sun and the blank slate of a new day.
During the workday
- Log your time.
This may seem like a faff if your employer doesn’t require you to do it, but being more aware of exactly how long you spend doing which tasks will free up minutes, even hours, each week.
This will leave you feeling less stressed, as you’ll have more time to get things done at work rather than worrying about them at home.
- Don’t eat lunch at your desk.
Sit with your co-workers, eat in the park or at least take a walk round the office. Appreciating the time of day as more than a nutritional distraction will boost your mood and energise you for the afternoon ahead.
- Slow down to speed up.
It may sound like a slogan from a cheesy motivational poster, but it really works. Slowing down and taking care to do the best job possible will save you hours of meetings and redo’s later on – and you’ll enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done the first time.
Family time at night
- Have a healthy family dinner.
It’s almost becoming a cliché, but that’s only because it’s so important. In addition to the health or academic benefits for your kids, family meals reportedly decrease stress and increase productivity along adults, particularly working women (Brigham Young University).
- Don’t live in front of the TV.
You have only so many waking hours a day when you’re not at work. A bit of telly is great, but don’t waste away your free time on it every night.
- Have a quiet conversation before bed.
If you’re married, and especially if you have kids, it can be easy to slip into an automated bedtime routine. But talking to each other before going to sleep does more than strengthen your relationship.
It also occupies your brain’s verbal centres, helping to block out distracting thoughts and worries from the day.
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