The daily grind can involve busy mornings, long days and sometimes late nights committed to finishing work, school projects or chores around the house. Such a jam-packed schedule can leave little room for hobbies or self-care, never mind moments to simply catch a breath. However, the more chaotic the routine, the more important it becomes to take that break and be mindful.
At the basic level, being mindful means paying more attention to – or becoming more thoughtful of – yourself and your surroundings. Sounds fairly simple, right? However, engaging in the true meaning of mindfulness involves the development of a high level of consciousness. With practice, this will lead to a deeper understanding of self at a given point in time. Buddha, one of the forefathers of mindfulness, explained its overarching premise when he said, “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.”
Regardless of the way in which mindfulness is practiced, it can be extremely beneficial. Here are a few of the many ways:
1. Mindfulness creates an awareness of the present moment. It encourages a pause from the hustle and bustle of life. When such a timeout is taken, the past and future are put at bay and a keen awareness of present sights, sounds, tastes, smells and feelings becomes the focus. Mindfulness teaches gratitude of all that encompasses the “here and now,” encouraging relaxation and release of tension.
2. Mindfulness allows for the development of appreciation. Once an awareness of the present moment is grasped, appreciation can be found in the smallest things. This could be for the view of the ocean, the sound of birds, the taste of chocolate, the smell of an aromatic candle or the feeling of joy. Mindfulness unveils hidden bits of happiness that can be found around every corner.
3. Mindfulness allows room for self-reflection. When time is allowed for true presence or awareness, self-reflection is possible. This kind of thought process leads to a more objective point of view and clearer thinking AND leaves room for personal growth and development. Effective self-reflection can lead to improvements in many aspects of life, including critical thinking and creativity.
4. Mindfulness cultivates acceptance without judgment. The mind naturally wanders, so when attempting to be mindful, negative thoughts may arise. You may begin to focus on unhappy, stressful or anxiety-provoking situations. Regardless of what enters the mind, mindfulness teaches acceptance of these thoughts without judgment. They are to be viewed as mere thoughts that can go as quickly as they come.
How Can You Best Be Mindful?
It takes practice to achieve this level of attentiveness and to reap the true benefits of mindfulness. It is easy to not feel “productive” when there are moments of “down time.” These moments can often be filled with activities such as catching up on social media, checking email or playing with your smartphone. Do you ever find yourself mindful, aware, reflective and appreciative when doing these things? Likely not.
In order to start allowing room in life for mindfulness, take a few minutes each day to relax. Believe it or not, these short moments can be all it takes to it produce noticeable and even significant results. To start, in the morning or before bed, take two minutes to focus on your breath when deep breathing or listen to minute mediations on a meditation app. During meals, savor each bite by chewing slowly and truly tasting the subtle flavors of the food. When you have a lunch break, go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air. Then unplug for the evening so a sense of peace can be restored and rejuvenated for the next day. Or cap off the night by writing two things that you are thankful for in a journal.
Shawn Achor and Michele Gielan write in the Harvard Business Review, “A lack of mindfulness robs everyone of the opportunity to see potential paths to success.”
Mindfulness can play an important role in the treatment of eating disorders, teaching individuals more positive ways to interpret and process certain thoughts and feelings, especially in their views of self or their relationship with food. In fact, mindfulness is a proven strategy to wholly reduce the symptoms of one’s eating disorder.
I encourage you to try and minimize forward thinking and engage in present awareness. In some cases, less really is more. Are you interested in learning more? It’s all part of our comprehensive eating disorder treatment.
Dr. Olivia Stumpf, DNP, PMHNP is the psychiatric nurse practitioner at Walden Behavioral Care’s South Windsor and Guilford clinics. In this role, she provides psychiatric evaluations and medication management for adolescents and adults in Walden’s partial hospitalization program. She holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Nursing and in English, as well as a Doctoral degree in Nursing, all from Fairfield University. Olivia has a strong passion for working with patients struggling with eating disorders. She has completed extensive research, including the use of mindfulness-based group work in the treatment of disordered eating and promotion of positive body image. Olivia is a member of the American Academy of Eating Disorder’s Advocacy and Communications Committee and serves as a freelance writer for various publications, aiming to promote eating disorder policy and awareness.