Find it hard to focus or be present with the people you love?
Notice your mind always racing, thinking of what’s next, worrying about the future and replaying the past?
Find yourself on autopilot, not really conscious of what you’re doing?
Feel exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed or angry on a regular basis?
Overthink things or get caught up in self criticism?
Have feelings you don’t understand?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, then this article is for you.
You’ve probably heard of mindfulness. It’s not a new concept, but it’s certainly becoming more and more popular.
Research has shown mindfulness to have many benefits, including helping you deal with all those situations I’ve listed above. It can actually change your brain for the better. Mindfulness can help you feel calmer and happier, which is something so many of the women I speak to, are longing for.
The wonderful thing about mindfulness, is that it’s simple and easy to incorporate into your daily life. It doesn’t need to take a lot of time. Even 5 minutes a day can make a difference. Additionally, anyone can practice mindfulness, as we are all born with the capacity to be mindful. Just look at how young children become so absorbed in what they’re doing! They notice all the details and it can be so difficult to direct their attention to anything else.
Mindfulness can take some practice, so don’t be disheartened if it feels a bit challenging at first. Doing the best you can right now, is all that you need to do. With practice, you’ll find that mindfulness comes more naturally and easily to you.
To help you discover how mindfulness could work for you, let’s look at exactly what it is.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is continually refocusing your attention on the present, with curiosity, openness and acceptance. It’s about increasing your awareness and choosing what you focus on. When you are mindful, you are paying attention to what is actually happening rather than getting absorbed in your thoughts about what is happening.
There are three key elements of this definition.
Many people think that mindfulness requires you to be in the present moment 100% of the time. They then feel frustrated or think they’re getting it wrong when their mind wanders off, or they get distracted.
It’s actually completely normal for your mind to wander. Mindfulness doesn’t require you to have no thoughts. Our brain produces 50,000 – 70, 000 thoughts per day! There’s so much going on in there! Instead, mindfulness involves us noticing those thoughts entering our mind and letting them float away, as if they were in a cloud. Then, we gently bring our attention back to the present.
Curiosity and openness
When we’re truly present in the moment, we intentionally notice things. We notice what we can see, hear, smell, taste and feel (physically and emotionally). We’re curious about what is happening and we’re open to whatever it is we will find. Even if it’s undesirable or uncomfortable
When we’re being mindful, we accept things as they are. We don’t judge them as good or bad. We don’t criticise ourselves for what we’re feeling or experiencing. Whatever is happening, is happening. We observe it and experience it, as it is.
If you start to notice that you’re judging the situation or yourself, just let that thought go (float off in a cloud), and come back to the experience itself.
How can mindfulness help me feel calmer and happier?
So many mums tell me they want to feel happier and calmer. So, how can mindfulness help?
Mindfulness can help you to:
Experience more enjoyment
Mindfulness helps you pay attention to and enjoy the little things that happen in your day. When you’re mindful, you really take in the joy on your child’s face as they share something exciting. You really savour the experience of eating your favourite food. You really notice the warmth of the sunshine on your skin as you walk.
As you find more things to enjoy, you also experience an increased sense of gratitude, which is a great mood booster.
Reduce overwhelm and stress
We live in such a busy world with constant stimulation. The volume of information coming at us, can far exceed the amount our brain can process. Emails, texts, advertising, TV, music, conversations, responsibilities, activities, etc. It can be very overwhelming and exhausting. By staying present in the current moment, you step out of the overwhelm, and into a more manageable situation.
If you’re in a stressful situation, taking a break and practicing an unrelated mindfulness exercise can help you calm down. I’ll share some examples of mindfulness exercises later in this article.
Mindfulness also helps you get more done, more quickly and to a better standard, because it improves your ability to focus and avoid distractions. Practicing awareness without judgement can help you identify your priorities more clearly and be more open to new ideas.
Science has shown that practicing mindfulness reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for your stress responses, so your overall stress levels are reduced.
Reduce anxiety, worry and rumination
Our brains are often stuck in the past (ruminating on things that have happened, and replaying mistakes) or in the future (worrying about things that might happen). Mindfulness brings your mind back to something that is actually happening now so you don’t get caught in a loop of negative thoughts. It stops you from creating stories about things or exaggerating negative events. This is important because your thoughts create your feelings, so if you can redirect your thoughts to something more positive, you will create more positive feelings for yourself.
Let go of the need to control and unrealistic standards
Trying to control things and striving for unrealistic standards cause mums a lot of stress. Through the practice of acceptance, mindfulness helps you let go of the things you can’t (and don’t need to) control. It can also help you be more aware of unrealistic standards, because you become an observer of the situation and aren’t judging the situation, ourselves or your actions as good or bad.
Reduce emotional reactivity
I speak to many mums about how they wish they were less reactive, frustrated, angry and impatient. Mindfulness helps you distance yourself from your emotions a little. While you notice them and accept your emotions, you don’t get caught up in them. Instead, you allow yourself to feel them and let them pass through you, without judgement. Mindfulness helps to reduce the intensity of the emotions, helps you think more clearly to choose an appropriate response and supports a quicker recovery from emotional situations.
Extend yourself more compassion
Mindfulness is grounded in the reality of the situation at hand. This means it is much harder for your inner critic to take hold. You might hear her speak to you but you choose to not follow those thoughts. For example, when your friend doesn’t call you back and your inner critic tells you it’s because she’s bored with you and doesn’t want to be your friend, you notice this thought, and let it go, because it’s there’s nothing happening right now that confirms it. All that has happened is that you haven’t received a call yet.
When we aren’t believing everything our inner critic is saying, and we’re mindful about how we are feeling, we’re able to be more self compassionate. We notice when we are struggling, feeling low, stressed, confused, etc. Then, we can be kind and supportive towards ourselves, just as we would if it was our friend feeling that way. We also refrain from judgement, which usually sees us comparing ourselves to others, to unrealistic standards, or to who we think we “should be”.
Mindfulness is wonderful for relationships, and since we were made for connection, this is important for our happiness. Mindfulness helps you be present with your loved ones, understand others better, be more aware of their emotions and receive more subtle communication. You’ll also be able to choose your responses more carefully, leading to less conflict and improved connections. When something goes wrong in a relationship, you will be able to better deal with it, and support yourself through it.
How do I start practicing mindfulness?
Are you ready to give this a try?
If you’d like to start seeing these benefits in your own life, here are three simple ways to start practicing mindfulness.
1. Observe your breath
Sit comfortably, with good posture. Close your eyes, and take one deep breath in, before slowly exhaling. Then, let your breath return to normal and pay attention to the breath entering and leaving your body. Notice it moving from the nose to your lungs and out again. Pay attention to any natural pauses in between breaths. Just breath naturally, without trying to adjust the way you breathe. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
Before you end, shift your attention to your body and how it feels. Feel any sensations, the contact with your chair and any tension. Relax your body while breathing in and out a couple of times.
2. Use your senses
Practice mindfulness by tuning into your 5 senses. What can you see? feel? hear? smell? and taste? Try to notice things you wouldn’t normally notice. Do this slowly, allowing yourself to be really curious. You might like to choose a number of things to notice for each of your senses, for example, three things for each.
3. Notice your emotions
Start by taking a couple of deep breaths in and out. Then focus your attention on your emotions. What are you feeling right now? If names for your emotions come to mind, then that’s fine. If not, just allow yourself to be aware of the feeling.
- Where you feel these emotions in your body – your head, chest, stomach, etc. Is the sensation moving?
- How the emotions make you feel – nauseous, relaxed, tense, calm, etc.
- Any thoughts that come with the emotion.
Observe what is happening within you as a result of the emotion, with curiosity and without judgement. Notice if anything changes while you are focused on this.
When you are finished, bring your attention back to your breath for a minute.
You can follow up this exercise by identifying what you need right now, to support yourself through the emotion. Do you need to take a break, have a rest, get some support, do something to make you smile, or something else?
Would you like more mindfulness activities to try?
If you’d like to explore how to practice mindfulness further, then click on the image below to download your free Introduction to Mindfulness e-booklet. It summarises what mindfulness is, how it benefits us, and contains 10 mindfulness practices for you to try. I’ve also added a section on how to introduce your children to mindfulness, because it’s just as beneficial for them as it is for us.
Note: The benefits of mindfulness have been demonstrated through research, however in rare cases it can lead to feelings of intense anxiety or dissociation from reality. If you feel worse after practicing mindfulness, please stop and seek professional advice.