Reduce stress by becoming more mindful.
Mindfulness is derived from a Buddhist practice. It’s a mental state that you achieve by focusing your awareness on the present moment while acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and body sensations.
Being mindful corresponds to realizing what is happening in the present moment. It’s pretty common to be distracted by our thoughts or feelings during the day, act mindlessly, or be disconnected from our surroundings.
We sometimes rush through activities without paying attention, don’t realize subtle feelings of tension or discomfort, or forget a name as soon as we hear it. When we stray from the present moment, we sometimes feel regret, sadness or guilt about our past or anxious about the future. On the contrary, mindfulness refers to accepting what is happening in the present moment and it’s a skill you can acquire by practice.
Mindfulness = Sati
The word “sati” translates as “mindfulness” in English, connoting awareness, attention and remembering. Mindfulness is the core teaching of the Buddhist psychology tradition.
Awareness - We start dealing with difficult emotions and cognitions by becoming aware of what is happening within and around ourselves.
Attention - When we direct our attention to what we are aware of, that moment we start to regulate our emotions rather than trying to suppress or ignore them.
Remembering - During those times we have to remember to be aware and pay attention to be in the present moment.
We already talked about how our mind tends to wander away during the day. We often daydream about the past or future. Most of it is not very useful and may lead to worry or stress. And now you know how to avoid that and stay in the present moment by practicing mindfulness. But how?
Mindfulness involves acceptance. So you have to accept your feelings without judgement. When we are dealing with stress or difficult emotions, non-judgment fosters mindfulness and helps us see our experience as it is. But don’t confuse acceptance as lack of motivation to change maladaptive behaviors or thoughts.
“Change is the brother of acceptance, but it is the younger brother” (Christensen & Jacobson, 2000, p. 11).
There are varying degrees of intensity for practicing mindfulness. For instance, having a moment during the day to catch a conscious breath is a practice of mindfulness that is at one end of this continuum. You don’t necessarily have to meditate for hours; a short time slot when you ask yourself “What am I doing, or feeling right now?” is an example of how you can practice mindfulness in your daily life.
Here is a short mindfulness exercise to start with
In the past decade, there have been a number of studies revealing that practicing mindfulness not only reduces stress, but also improves sleep, the immune system, energy levels, and even your relationships. Specific to sleep, mindfulness meditation has been found to increase subjective sleep quality, increase sleep efficiency, and decrease fatigue due to sleep disturbances.
In taking the time to relax and focus on one aspect of yourself, you allow your brain and body a moment of peace. When doing this before bed, meditation helps your brain prepare for sleep, shifting it from day mode to night mode. Studies have shown that meditation increases the amount of natural melatonin levels which leads to better sleep.
There are a few simple ways to practice mindfulness before bed:
The first method is called “Concentration Meditation.” This involves focusing your attention on a specific subject to prevent your mind from wandering. What you focus on can be concrete (a calming audio track) or abstract (thinking of your favorite color). It can even be your breath. You can follow our guided Mindfulness Visualization exercise in the Meditation section of the app. The goal is to observe what you see and feel to relax the mind; acknowledging moments of wandering from that subject.
Another method is to practice small acts of gratitude. Through acknowledging those individuals or things you are grateful for, you are actually being mindful of them as well. Feeling grateful is known to help you sleep longer and better. So before bed, make a list of 5 individuals or things you were thankful for that day. As you fall asleep, focus on why you were thankful for them and how they made you feel. If you want, we have the perfect guided Gratitude exercise in the Fall asleep section of the app.
Checking in with your body is also a great way to implement mindfulness before bed. Take a moment to assess how your body feels. Where is there tension? Do you feel heavy or light? Do you have any pain? What needs to be stretched? Focusing your attention on your body brings awareness of any areas that need more care. In the app, try the Body Scan exercise in the Meditation section.
For more introductory guided exercises, check out the Mindfulness section of the app.
Practicing mindfulness everyday is important to establish a routine. Try to incorporate mindfulness exercises into your bedtime routine and practice at the same time every night. This will not only help you implement a solid mindfulness routine, but also will let your body know it’s time for sleep. You can start with small steps, which is a proven way to adopt healthy habits. If you want to learn more about establishing a bedtime routine check out our Sleep Cues exercise in the app.
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