Our minds are pretty amazing.
They can also be kind of frustrating.
For example, you might be one of those people who can remember lyrics to every pop song dating back to bobby soxers but can’t remember where you left your phone. You might be a whiz at wordplay but mathematically outmatched. Or maybe you can pack the trunk of your car as though you were Euclid himself but you can’t figure out how to reprogram the car’s clock at the end of Daylight Saving Time.
Each person’s mind has its own idiosyncrasies, which means each individual has a different combination of (often quirky) things they do well and don’t do well. But there are two things at which nearly everyone’s mind seems to excel: worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.
All in all, those are lousy things to be good at—not least because worrying and ruminating can have a negative impact on our mental well-being. But if you have ever spent a night tossing and turning as you replay the past and fret about the future (and let’s be honest, you almost certainly have), you know how hard it can be to get the mind to focus on anything else.
Happily, we have good news.
Mindfulness practice can help you stay present, reducing the amount of time you spend lost in your personal history or hampered by worry about what’s ahead. And that sense of being present can give a significant boost to your mental health.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.
You might understandably wonder what a “nurturing lens” is. The idea is that when you are practicing mindfulness, you should be kind to yourself. As the Greater Good Science Center puts it:
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
The basic details of mindfulness practice are actually fairly simple. For many people, the routine is something like this: each day, they spend a period of time (how much time is up to the individual) sitting comfortably with their eyes closed. While doing this, they focus on their breathing—not so that they can change it, but so that they can be present with the natural rising and falling sensations we all feel (but usually are not conscious of) when we breathe.
Even though the logistics of mindfulness are easy to grasp, it can be challenging in a number of ways—especially in the early going. As a result, it can be quite helpful to have some guidance and encouragement. There are a number of apps designed to help you get started, many of which are entirely free or have some free content you can try. There may also be classes or other resources in your community to help introduce you to mindfulness. And there are plenty of books on the subject as well.
Are You Feeling a Little Skeptical?
For some people, the idea of mindfulness—with its roots in Eastern philosophy and its modern-day trendiness—seems a little sketchy or a bit too mystical for comfort. Maybe you are one of the people for whom this is true.
We get it.
We also encourage you to try it anyway. The barriers to entry are very low, and there is no risk involved. You might find that it is helpful to spend a little time encouraging your mind to stay with you in the present rather than scurrying off to the past or the future. If so, that’s great. And if not, that’s okay, too. At the very least, you will have gained something to try—focusing on your breathing—when other strategies for calming the mind don’t seem to be working.
Our Minds Are Set On Helping You
At Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health, we are committed to helping you improve your overall mental health. We offer personalized, evidence-based, compassionate care for mental health disorders of all kinds—including various kinds of depression, anxiety, and trauma-based issues. If you are struggling, we are here to help.