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Improving Your Mental Health With Mindfulness

Hannah Hopper

Have you ever felt distracted by stressful events that happened in your past, this last week, or even several hours ago? Have you ever been so anxious about what could happen in the future that you’re unable to even focus on the things that are happening in your present moment? If any of these things have been true for you (and let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced this at some point), then you might consider giving mindfulness a try.

Mindfulness is the mental process of bringing your attention to the present moment, and experiencing each moment as it comes instead of being focused on the past or the future. Mindfulness also means accepting one’s current mood, thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise, and being aware of them without judging them as “good” or “bad.” And while this sounds pretty simple, the practice of mindfulness is actually quite difficult because without even realizing it we spend the majority of our days distracted from our daily moments.

What Mindfulness Can Help

The reason that practicing mindfulness can be such a powerful resource is that it has been proven to bring down stress levels, decrease anxiety, protect against depression, and keep you from getting caught in the cycle of negative thoughts. Some research has even shown that mindfulness can help with feelings of loneliness and social isolation.

Mindfulness can be practiced through something as simple as focusing on your breath as it passes in and out of your body, or through something more structured like a yoga session. If you are new to the concept of mindfulness it might be easier with focusing on your own breathing as an introduction since longer sessions of meditation can take a lot of concentration and mental focus.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Below is a mindfulness exercise that I’ve adapted from Psychology Today.

To begin practicing mindfulness, sit in a comfortable position with both feet on the ground. Start taking several deep breaths, breathing in through your nose as your stomach expands, and out through your mouth as your stomach falls. Bring your attention to each breath, and focus on the feelings and sensations your body is experiencing with each new breath. Notice if there is any tension or tightness in certain parts of your body, and notice anything new that comes up for you as you take a moment to slow down. Continue with your deep breaths and now shift your focus to the thoughts and emotions of the moment. Allow each emotion to simply be in you, without judging it or labeling it as “good” or “bad.” Sit with those feelings and thoughts that come up, but know that whatever comes up may cause you to have a strong emotional response. As you continue to notice the strong emotional reaction, this may be your body’s cue to look into some other unresolved challenges that have come up.

Continued Practice

Mindfulness is a practice and it can take work, so don’t feel discouraged if it’s difficult for you to do the first several times. It’s like working out and exercising a muscle, so be kind to yourself as you develop this muscle and grow in your ability to be present and aware in any given moment. There are apps that also have mindfulness exercises and guided meditations, and many of my clients have found Headspace and Calm to be helpful in their mindfulness practice outside of counseling sessions.

If you are currently struggling with anxiety, depression, or think that mindfulness could be helpful for you, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling for help with incorporating mindfulness into your life. You can set up an appointment today by calling 312-578-9990.

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