Happy World Mental Health Day! Do you know that mindfulness meditation is good for your mental health, but find that you struggle to make time in your day to do it? Or have you tried meditating but felt like you were failing at “clearing your mind”? If this sounds like you, know that you are not alone. According to a national health research survey conducted in 2017, 36 million adults in the United States meditate, and that number is likely to be much higher today as a result of Covid-19. However, many people still struggle with finding time to meditate, meditating consistently, locating meditation classes or teachers, or simply understanding the fundamentals of the practice.
For example, in mindfulness meditation, the aim is actually not to “clear your mind,” but to bring your full attention into the present moment. When we simply pay attention to what’s right in front of us, our mind calms down because it is no longer continually ruminating on various thoughts, worries, memories, things we need to do, and so on. We can give ourselves a break from all of this, but this is often easier said than done. When we try to keep our attention in the present, on the breath for instance, we find that our mind keeps wandering back to all the things we have going on. The purpose of spending time in meditation, in addition to relieving some of our stress and anxiety, is to strengthen our capacity to keep our attention where we want it, instead of where it wants to be. We can train our mind to be more mindful and less consumed or distracted.
The good news here is that while dedicating time to meditate can be very helpful for your mental health, there are simple ways to practice mindfulness throughout your day to help relieve stress, feel better, and strengthen our ability to keep our attention in the present—without needing to find time for a formal meditation. To give your mental health a boost, see if you can try doing one or more of these each day:
- Go for a mindful walk—Rather than thinking about everything on your to-do list or some situation that happened while you are out for a walk (even if you’re just walking to your car!), try walking mindfully instead. Notice the feeling of your feet on the ground, the color of the leaves on the trees, the scent of nearby flowers, or the temperature of the air on your skin. Doing this can help bring your attention into the present and interrupt the cycle of mental rumination.
- Get out of your head and into your body—We spend a lot of time in our heads—thinking, planning, worrying, remembering, analyzing, and so on. Our minds are often overflowing, our attention can feel scattered and unfocused, and this can be quite exhausting! Next time you feel this way, bring your attention from your mind into your body. Just notice the sensations of your body sitting in the chair, the feeling of your feet resting on the floor, or the feeling of your breath going in and out. You may be surprised how calming this simple change of focus can be.
- Try a mini digital detox—Many of us have become a bit addicted to social media, habitually checking notifications, likes, comments, and more. What we often don’t realize is how we actually feel—moment-by-moment—as we are scrolling through social media. In addition to slowing down and noticing what emotions the posts you’re reading are evoking in you (and if they are helpful or not), try putting your phone on airplane mode or leaving it in another room for a couple of hours. Take a look around the room and see what you notice, go for a mindful walk, or connect with a friend or loved one. You might discover that some mindful, device-free time is just what the doctor ordered for your mental health.
All of these strategies can help us strengthen our ability to keep our attention in the present and break the cycle of continual thinking, worrying, or scrolling which can lead to high levels of stress and/or anxiety for many people. Want another idea? Get engaged at the Y! The Y has opportunities for people of all ages to get more engaged in the present, including a Zoom Mindfulness Meditation class on Tuesdays at 6:30PM where you can learn mindfulness fundamentals. Visit the Y of Greater Houston’s website to learn more about our programs.
About the Author
Wendy Saunders is a Certified Teacher and Facilitator through Emory University in CBCT® (Cognitively-Based Compassion Training) and SEE Learning®, a K-12 educational program designed to build social, emotional, and ethical competencies through attention training, compassion cultivation, and trauma-informed resiliency skills. Wendy is also a facilitator of the Community Resiliency Model (CRM) ®, a program of the Trauma Resource Institute, the Founder of Compassionate Leader, LLC, and has worked with thousands of people in business, non-profit, education, and healthcare organizations across the country and internationally to cultivate mindfulness, compassion, resilience, and leadership skills.