The 18th year of Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place October 7th – 13th and the focus is stress. While stress is something we all may experience in our lifetime, when it becomes difficult to manage it can negatively impact our mental health. Mindfulness is a mind-body approach to life that helps us relate differently to experiences. It involves paying attention to our thoughts and feelings in a way that increases our ability to manage difficult situations and make wise choices. Mindfulness not only reduces stress but also helps to build inner strength so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and well-being.

The simplest definition of mindfulness is paying attention to one’s experience in the present moment. It involves observing thoughts and emotions from moment to moment without judging or becoming caught up in them.

There are a number of ways in which being mindfully aware of what you’re doing while you’re doing it can help with stress.

Focusing on the here and now can help you become aware of your negative thoughts, acknowledge them without judgment and realize they’re not accurate reflections of reality. Through mindfulness, you start to see your thoughts as less powerful. Distorted thoughts such as, “I always make mistakes” or “I’m a horrible person” start to hold less weight. Mindfulness has been described as “watching ourselves think”. Meaning that we ‘experience’ thoughts and other sensations but are not carried away by them. We watch them come and go.

Being mindful of what you are doing can be a powerful way to weaken the grip of these negative thought streams, particularly if you bring awareness to the sensations and feelings in your body. By doing this over and over again, you end up living more in the actuality of the present moment and less “in your head,” going over and over things that happened in the past or worrying about the future.

Being aware of what you’re doing as you’re doing it also provides the opportunity to shift mental gears. When you are deliberately mindfully aware of what you’re doing you can shift gears into a different mode of mind. In this mode, you are less likely to get stuck in negative thinking.

In mindfulness, you pay attention to each experience rather than being lost in it. Over time you begin to develop a different relationship with difficult experiences. You can begin to see negative, stressful and depressive thoughts for what they really are, just patterns of the mind, coming and going. These thoughts no longer become “the truth” about what kind of person you are or how the future will be. As the power of these thoughts are weakened they don’t drag your mood down or keep you trapped in depression.

Mindfulness practices can help you stay in the present, every day, and fully participate in your life.

7 Things Mindful People Do Differently:

  • Approach things with curiosity and savor them.
  • Forgive their mistakes—big or small
  • Show gratitude for good moments and grace for bad ones.
  • Practice compassion and nurture connections.
  • Make peace with imperfection, inside and out.
  • Embrace vulnerability by trusting other and themselves.
  • Accept and appreciate that things come and go.

Take a deep breath with thoughtfulness

  1. Pull the air down deep into your lungs and smile as you do. With every breath in, feel that smile spread across your cheeks, up to your eyebrows, and beneath your scalp. Feel the muscles around your eyes and forehead relax, and feel your tongue drop from the roof of your mouth as your shoulders relax.
  2. When your body is calmed, attach that smile onto your next inhale and imagine that your breath is carrying that energy deep into your body, just below your navel.
  3. Continue breathing, allowing the energy of your smile to expand beyond your lungs and into your body. Feel that energy as it expands down your arms and legs out to your fingers and toes, and imagine it washing the stress and strain from your body.

Zone in on your 5 senses

  1. Stop for a moment and scroll through each of your five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Simply note the sounds around you, free from judgment. Make a note of what scents or smells fill the air. Feel your body in the chair beneath you, or in your feet as they press into the ground.
  2. If you’re walking down the street, simply notice the color of the sky, the cars, and the people. If a car is honking, label it as “honking.” Label everything, not as good or bad, but as a way to let your primordial brain understand that these are not threats you should be stressed about, but part of the modern world you live in every day.
  3. Smile as you do this.

The two-minute break

  1. When you feel yourself spiraling out of control or sitting in the midst of chaos, take a small timeout to have a cup of tea or unplug from devices.
  2. While you’re in “break mode,” use the awareness method above to scan your five senses and place your attention in the present moment to re-center.

Everyone experiences stress, sadness and anxiety from time to time. It’s a part of life.

But if you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or unable to enjoy things you once enjoyed it may be time to assess your emotional health.

Take a few minutes to complete this self test.