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How to Practice Mindfulness

A woman sitting at her desk with her arms crossed and eyes closed practicing mindfulness meditation

The world moves fast, and sometimes that means you do, too. While you're working your way through to-do lists and absorbing information coming from multiple directions, finding the time to be intentional with your thoughts and actions can be a challenge. But there are many ways you can practice mindfulness in your daily life. By incorporating a few simple mindfulness techniques into your routine, you can begin to reduce your stress and increase your happiness through consciously focusing on your state of mind.

Making an effort to "do nothing" in the moment and rest your attention on yourself can be difficult, but it can help lessen daily worries. During this time for yourself, pay attention to your feelings and let them pass. The key to mindfulness is accepting feelings of stress and anxiety and working toward future goals.

Mindfulness and Mental Health

You don't have to be stressed or overwhelmed to practice mindfulness, although it's proven to be an effective tool for reducing both. If you're one of the 40 million U.S. adults who suffer from anxiety per year, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) promotes mindfulness as a technique for growth, self-discovery and success.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide, and almost one in three adults in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, according to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Nearly half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs assist with stress, anxiety, depression or pain. It's an approach to mindfulness that trains attention, helping you to cultivate awareness and enabling you to have more choices. This helps you take wise action in your life, which can reduce stress.

Mindfulness isn't instantaneous, but regular mindfulness practice can lead to positive results in your life and your mental health over time.

What is Mindfulness Meditation and Mindfulness?

Mindfulness and meditation are two sides of the same coin: They overlap and complement each other. Mindfulness teaches you how to become aware of what's going on in the present moment. A key to mindfulness meditation is recognizing emotions or situations without any positive or negative judgment. When you observe rather than judge, you can be more purposeful in what you say and how you say it.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is focused around being present in any moment, at any time. It's the human ability to be aware of where you are and what you're doing, and not overstimulated by what's going on around you. Mindfulness meditation is a starting point to learn how to practice mindfulness effectively.

The concept of mindfulness dates back to Greek and Buddhist psychology, according to The International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory. Both psychologies commonly describe mindfulness as the centrality of human experience. Mindfulness is the root of consciousness, attention and awareness. To be mindful, you must pay attention to your surroundings, place awareness on how you feel in your surroundings and lastly, train your consciousness to not place judgment in that present moment.

A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a primary tool for practicing mindfulness. Meditation helps anchor your breath and focus your attention on your thoughts. It encompasses the practice of reaching desired consciousness and concentration to self-regulate the mind. There are different reasons why people meditate, such as to feel calm, decrease pain or practice spirituality.

Dr. Leila Samii with the text Dr. Leila SamiiDr. Leila Samii, an associate professor and the associate dean of the School of Business at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), starts her lectures every day with an optional 5-minute mindful meditation for her students. Samii guides the meditation and typically asks the students what type of meditation they need for the day; for example, focus, creativity, distress or energy. “Typically, college learners don't have much time for themselves,” she said. "I hope to provide them the tools to cope with constant connection and typical college stressors."

Before beginning mindful meditation, it's valuable to set goals to focus your intention and attention throughout the meditation. Samii describes these three focal points as the key to mindfulness:

  1. Before starting your day, Samii suggests writing out an intention for the day. Whether it's focusing on positivity, self-care or laughing more, allow yourself to focus on one thing that helps your well-being.
  2. An important part of mindfulness meditation is to stabilize yourself and relax. Find a comfortable place, have a soft gaze to the ground, follow your breath in and out, and if your mind wanders, try to bring it back to your breath.
  3. Attention is a difficult part of mindfulness because it determines if you are present in the moment. Once you can practice bringing your attention to the present moment — your productivity, quality and condition of work can increase.

How to Practice Mindfulness

There are many ways to practice mindfulness beyond traditional meditation. Mayo Clinic outlined how you can be mindful in your daily life.

Start Small

Starting small means taking 5 minutes or so out of your day and dedicating it to yourself. These 5 minutes can bring a new perspective, positivity and calmness to whatever stress is weighing down on you. Take the time to focus on your senses, breathing, body and environment.

Accept Yourself and Be Open to Change

The Mayo Clinic suggests treating yourself as your would treat a friend. In avoiding self-criticism and negative self-talk, you're demonstrating mindfulness by practicing to regulate damaging thought patterns.

It's easy to be very critical and judgmental throughout the day, even unintentionally. Being open to trying new things and thinking a different way can open the door for a new way of life. Change can lead to progress, even some changes that are frightening at first.

Fit Mindfulness Into Your Lifestyle

It only takes a few minutes per day to decrease your stress levels through mindfulness. Find these moments in your day. They might be transitional periods, like right after work, between tasks or after meals. You can also dedicate a space in your home to mindfulness by setting up a quiet and comfortable area to practice connecting with yourself.

Mindfulness can be practiced wherever and whenever, but The Mayo Clinic notes engaging your senses outdoors is especially beneficial. You might go for a walk as an opportunity to increase your mindfulness, or even just take advantage of the moments in your day when you find yourself outdoors, like checking the mail or walking to your car.

4 Benefits of Mindfulness

Some research has shown that mindfulness practices can have positive impacts on mental health. David Creswell, associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, focuses his research on health psychology and neuroscience to understand mental health. His mindfulness research for The International Journal for the Advancement of Psychological Theory shows that practicing mindfulness can reduce anxiety and depression by concentrating on mindful well-being.

A study conducted by Daphne Davis and Jeffrey Hayes at Pennsylvania State University to research the benefits of mindfulness to consider it as a successful treatment (APA PDF Source). Some of the Davis and Hayes' findings include:

  1. Emotional Regulation
    There's evidence that mindfulness helps develop effective emotional regulation in the brain. Davis and Hayes found mindfulness meditation can promote awareness of your thoughts and enhance your focus to promote healthy emotional regulation. 

  2. Positive Interpersonal Behavior
    The study showed that mindfulness can help improve relationships because it helps you learn how to respond better to stress. You can better communicate your feelings and emotions to show more compassion for others. 

  3. Increase Response Flexibility
    Mindfulness meditation enables people to become less reactive and have greater cognitive flexibility. During meditation, subjects from this study showed a higher ability to self-observe to create more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations.

  4. Self-insight, Morality and Intuition
    According to the study, mindfulness can enhance functions associated with the middle prefrontal lobe area of the brain, which control self-insight (in other words how you see yourself), as well as morality and intuition. Balancing this part of the brain gave subjects in the study the ability to look deeper into themselves to find their true values.

Mayo Clinic notes mindfulness also might improve your health by alleviating high blood pressure, insomnia and pain. Early research suggests mindfulness and meditation can help people with asthma or fibromyalgia, too.

Mindfulness in the Classroom 

Samii's journey to mindfulness education started when she heard statistics about teenagers' delay in certain activities. Through teaching social media, she observed how students are always connected with text messages, Facebook notifications and social media engagement. She determined the counter to this issue is having the ability to realize the problem in that present moment, put down the distractions and focus on the tasks at hand to reduce the amount of stress students are under.

Samii was trained through the Koru Institute, which focuses on teaching college-aged students mindfulness, and attended the Google Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute that trains mindful leadership and emotional intelligence tools. She devotes a portion of her teachings to mindfulness education and meditation to help students make wiser decisions, regulate emotions and be more fully engaged in life.

In 2019, a 2-day Business of Mindfulness conference was held on the SNHU campus. Samii and a team of 20 set out to share the importance of teaching mindfulness in business into one learning environment for SNHU faculty and staff.

"The goal of the conference was for everyone to learn tools for work/life balance, stress reduction, collaboration, and implementation to bring more happiness into their lives to better help their students," Samii said.

As a practice that has been around for century's, mindfulness has been proven as a tool to reduce stress. It can also be a powerful way to strengthen your mind, body and spirit.

Joanne Coffey '19 '20G is a marketer with a passion for mindfulness. She has a bachelor's and master's degree from SNHU. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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