We humans spend much of our lives time traveling. While modern technology can’t transport us physically to a different time, our thoughts move us backward and forward on the space-time continuum a lot. Have you ever been watching a favorite program only to feel a sudden tightness in your shoulders or a surprising increase in your pulse? Likely, the show you were watching reminded you of a stressful moment from your past. Have you ever been sitting in a meeting and found your mind racing over all the bad things you believe will happen in the future? Both of these are examples of mental time travel.
Mental time travel provides some benefits to us. The memory of an injury from falling on ice can help us avoid similar mishaps in the future. Anticipating heavy traffic during an evening commute can help us drive more safely and help us manage our expectations regarding when we will arrive back home. Unfortunately, much of the mental time travel in which we participate harms us more than helping. Expecting a big fight over a decision or mistake you’ve made not only leads to unnecessary worry and stress. It can also create tension where none would ever have existed. Worrying about potential job losses or unforeseen medical disasters can keep our minds in crisis mode and even cause our bodies to fight against invisible forces. Hanging on to old scripts and reacting to circumstances that no longer exist can do the same. Consider the following tips for practicing mindfulness on regular basis:
1. Start with your breath. Any time you feel stressed, focusing on your breath can help. Your body must breathe in order to stay alive. Focusing on this primal function can help your body and mind join together in the present.
2. Check your posture. Whether you are sitting in a meeting or standing in line at a checkout counter, checking your posture is a great way to do a mindful body check. Take a few seconds to straighten your back, relax your shoulders, and check your balance.
3. Look around you. Engaging your senses is a great way to ground yourself in the present moment. Start by looking at your surroundings. Seeing the space where you are helps your mind and body assess the safety of your current situation and ground in the present instead of getting stuck in the past.
4. Sip a beverage. Paying attention to the feel and flavor of a beverage can also help ground you in the present moment. You can practice mindfulness by paying attention to the warmth, consistency, and flavor of your morning coffee. You can ground yourself and relax after a long day by sipping on a cup of hot tea. You can even pull yourself into the present moment by paying attention to the sensation of drinking a cold glass of water.
5. Practice mindful eating. You can best do this by focusing only on your food while eating. Life may not allow you to do this at every meal and snack throughout the day. Begin by practicing mindful eating at least once each day. Instead of eating at your desk while multitasking, move to a space away from your desk at lunchtime. Then pause for a moment to take in the look and smell of your food before enjoying the first bite. Even if responsibilities interrupt you later, this brief mindfulness will be beneficial.
6. Stop to smell the roses. Or candles. Or essential oils. Or even your hand lotion. Our sense of smell is linked directly to memory and emotion. Take time daily to notice and appreciate the smells around you—and improve them if the need arises.
7. Spend time with your pet. Your cat, dog or parakeet isn’t worried about tomorrow, and you’ll likely find it difficult to continue down the path of worry while engaging with an animal friend.
8. Pay attention to bodily sensations. This trick takes some time to master, but it is something you can do any time, in any place. Take a moment right now to check in with your body. What do you feel? Do you have any pain? Are you hot or cold? How do your clothes feel against your skin? To practice this type of mindfulness regularly, consider setting an alarm to remind you.
9. Touch something and think about how it feels. This mindfulness trick can help ground you even in extremely stressful situations. Use your fingertips to touch a surface—perhaps the grooved keyboard on your laptop, the roughness of the zipper on your hoodie, the metallic hardness of your house key, or the softness of a favorite sweater.
10. Unplug. Regardless of the number or importance of your personal responsibilities, you need to spend some time every day unplugged. One great way to enjoy some mindful screen-free time is to set aside time in the morning to do a body check before checking your phone. You might also consider setting aside a period of screen-free time before bed each evening.
11. Take a walk without your headphones. Your brain and body are likely to get even more benefit if your walk is in nature, but even a walk around the neighborhood or a little time on the treadmill can be beneficial. Even if you prefer to exercise while listening to music or watching a favorite show, take a few minutes during each exercise session to focus completely on your body and how you feel.
12. Listen to some music. Put those headphones back on or connect your Bluetooth speaker, and take the time to really listen. Our lives are filled with background noise. Take a mindful moment or five to immerse yourself in a world of sound.
13. Pay attention to your thoughts. And hold yourself accountable. In therapy, we often talk about ANTs, automatic negative thoughts. Many humans tend to gravitate toward negative thoughts. When we work to be mindful of our automatic thoughts, we can pay attention to the truthfulness of these thoughts. We can also begin to train our thoughts to follow healthier patterns.
14. Take a break. Whether you are working a high-stress job, parenting toddlers, writing your dissertation, doing housework, or some version of them all, breaks are essential. Both in the workplace and at school, regular breaks have been proven to increase efficiency and productivity. If you think you’re too busy to take a ten-minute break, chances are you can’t afford to skip that break.
15. Practice your hobby. Or pick a new one. Mindfulness is the primary idea behind holistic creativity and the MGisms brand, and we fully support hobbies. Anything you do for recreation or relaxation can help you engage parts of your brain that don’t get used during your workday. It can also help you build important social connections, which social connections are an important part of mindfulness as is private meditation time.
The practice of living in the present takes a lifetime to perfect. However, even people new to the practice can live in the present a little each day. Start with one or two of the mindfulness tips here. Then add others as you grow accustomed to the practice. You will likely begin seeing health benefits—both mental and physical—soon.