For the past twenty years in my counselling clinic I have taught clients the importance of Mindfulness. It is the most important stress-management tool in existence. Mindfulness simply means living in the present moment as opposed to living in your head, going around and around in a continual whirlwind of thought.
Here are five simple tools to begin practicing Mindfulness, thus ensuring that you can remain relatively calm in the days leading up to Christmas.
1) Regularly focus on your breath:
Your breath is with you 24/7. Therefore it is a very simple way to bring your mind instantly into the present moment. When you pay attention to your breathing and take a couple of deep breaths, at that very moment your nervous system begins to calm down, instantly. You can do this anytime, day or night. All you need to do is observe your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Anytime you feel stressed simply bring your attention back to your breathing, this takes attention away from troublesome thoughts, and you will also notice how relaxed you will feel. This focused breathing is also an excellent way to calm the mind prior to sleep and it promotes restful sleep.
2) Notice and change your thoughts:
While this may sound difficult it most definitely is not. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) shows us that our thoughts are learned, and anything that is learned can be unlearned. Negative thinking is simply a habit that we reinforce every day, by thinking the same thoughts as we did yesterday. This is where Mindfulness is an excellent tool because as we take our attention off our thoughts by being mindful in the present moment, those troublesome thoughts dissolve through a lack of attention. We can see this at work in real life; How well do you remember all the history or geography that you learned way back in school. Probably not too well. So, what has happened here is that those thoughts have died off through a lack of attention. Every day we have approximately 60,000 thoughts but the good news is that they happen one at a time. That means the task of managing thoughts is much easier – there is only ever one thought at a time to be controlled. What if you were to decide to withdraw your attention from any unhelpful thoughts? So, for example, when those thoughts come up in your mind about how perfect things need to be for Christmas/in your relationship/with your friends, you could just drop these and go back to focusing on the present moment. You will instantly notice that you feel so much better.
3) Use 'Flow Activities':
Positive Psychology is a new movement in psychology which investigates happiness, in particular how to be happier by experiencing a state of Flow. This state is simply one in which you are totally absorbed in doing something you really enjoy. Sports people call it 'The Zone' - in this place thoughts switch off and you are at one with whatever you are doing. In the movie Billy Elliot - he speaks of 'becoming one with the dance'. Make a list of your own 'Flow' activities - i.e. those things that when you are doing them you don't even notice time passing. Common ones are reading, cooking. gardening, walking in nature, music..... Make your own list and then commit to doing some of these things every day and notice how good you feel.
4) Practice Gratitude:
While we can undoubtedly have issues and life challenges at any given time, the perfect antidote to these is the practice of gratitude. Research shows that making a daily list of three good things that have happened, or three things to be grateful for, will immediately boost your happiness levels. At any moment during the day observe your thoughts and your words. Is what you are thinking or talking about making you feel good or bad? For stress-management if it’s making you feel bad simply stop and put your attention on growing the good. Deliberately find something in your life you can be grateful for and put your attention onto that instead. "Your mind is a garden, choose to water the flowers and not the weeds".
5) Meditation practice:
Set aside five or ten minutes in the day to simply close your eyes and listen to some relaxation music or meditations. As you do this simply observe your thoughts as they float through your mind, and notice how if you don’t hold onto them they drift on by. With regular practice this becomes easier and easier.
So don’t delay, just pick one of these 5 mindfulness tools and begin practising today.
To download some free meditations or learn about our mindfulness courses in Ireland visit www.irishmindfulnessacademy.ie