Mindfulness is a popular buzzword these days, and it seems that there are countless programs, practices, and products on the market that promise its serenity to us. While the term has been used to mean everything from a personality type to specific mental exercises, psychologists understand mindfulness as a state of increased awareness of the present moment that is experienced without judgment. The American Psychological Association identifies an impressive list of benefits that research has shown are linked to mindfulness: reduced stress, decreased rumination, higher relationship satisfaction, and improvements in working memory, focus, and cognitive flexibility. We also know that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can help to prevent the relapse of depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Though the research is still in its infancy, there is enough evidence to suggest that we can all benefit from strategies that help us to cultivate mindfulness.
But let’s be realistic – many of us aren’t willing or able to sit for hours meditating, attend multi-day retreats or participate in intensive courses. The good news is that practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be incompatible with a busy life. Here are our best suggestions for mindfulness on the go:
Call up some quiet
Though our phones can be sources of distraction and stress, they can also enable us to practice mindfulness anywhere. Pop in those headphones and tune in to a short mindfulness meditation on one of the many apps available (i.e. The Mindfulness App, Headspace, Calm)
We all have those routine activities that we do on autopilot like washing the dishes, riding the subway, and brushing our teeth. Practice being present during these ordinary moments.
Nourish the mind
When things are busy, we often eat mindlessly, not tasting or enjoying our food. Instead, try chewing slowly and identifying the different flavours, colours, and textures. You will likely get more pleasure from your meals and—bonus—experience better digestion.
Take a deep breath (or 3)
Focusing on your breathing brings attention to the present moment and away from distracting thoughts about the past and future. We recommend box breathing to calm the nervous system and quiet the mind. Pro tip—change your screensaver to this directive to remind you to breathe each time you start your device.
Tap into your 5 senses
To heighten awareness, identify the sensations you are experiencing from each of your five senses at any given moment: sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing.
Go for a mindful walk
Many of us walk around without really noticing our surroundings because our minds are elsewhere. Try taking a stroll and paying attention to what you experience—the noise and bustle of a busy street, alone birdcall, the smell of a neighbour’s lilacs, the movement of your body.
Make it a good morning
Instead of immediately reaching for your phone or jumping out of bed when you wake up, take a moment to enjoy one mindful activity before the day begins. This could be as simple as a big stretch, a couple of deep belly breaths, or spending a quiet moment in silence.
Dump your thoughts
If you’re finding the prospect of a mindfulness exercise daunting because your brain is reeling, try a “mind dump”: write down all your pressing thoughts and worries to clear your head before you try one of the tips above.
Make it a habit
Choose one mindfulness practice that is sustainable for you (no matter how small), and make it a habit. It’s the cumulative effect of these practices that accrue the longer-term benefits.
Give yourself a break
Most of us hold a similar ideal—entering serenely into a mindful state, effortlessly enjoying the calm and allowing intervening thoughts to float by like clouds. In reality, we get repeatedly distracted and frequently sucked into thought spirals. Practice self-compassion, forgive yourself, and remember that mindfulness is something we practice rather than master.
By: Zoë Laksman, Psy.D, C.Psych and Laura Clarridge, Ph.D.
Zoë Laksman has practiced as a Registered Clinical Psychologist at The Clinic on Dupont since 2007. Laura Clarridge is a certified executive coach who helps her clients find fulfilling educational and career pathways. Their backgrounds and training have shaped their interest in promoting improved psychological health, interpersonal functioning and wellness. They work together as a clinical team and as the developers of The Clinic on Dupont’s online presence.