The Power of Mindfulness

Have you ever left to get lunch with friends, only to arrive and realize you forgot your wallet at home? Then, through your entire catch up, your brain is focused on your wallet sitting on the kitchen counter, how if you had just gotten out of bed ten minutes earlier you wouldn’t have been rushing out the door and forgotten it – and you could now focus on your friends and not how much of a loser you are. (We may or may not be speaking from personal experience here.) 

When we’re distracted by our thoughts of the past or the future, we’re not practicing mindfulness. “Being mindful is the act of living in the present – it’s when we’re not focusing on the past or the future,” says Alex Strauss, MD, partner and child adolescent psychiatrist at Centra. “When you’re practicing mindfulness, your body is in less of fight or flight mode.”

According to the National Institute of Health, practicing mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, and there’s evidence that it can lower blood pressure and improve sleep.  “Even 5 minutes of mindfulness can have a positive effect on both our psychological and physiological states,” says Dr. Strauss.  

The good news? You might be practicing mindfulness without even knowing it, Dr. Strauss says. “It can be as simple as watching the waves crash while sitting on the beach. You don’t have to be a buddhist monk to practice mindfulness – it’s just that buddhist monks are very good at practicing mindfulness.” 

If you don’t have a beach readily available, Dr. Strauss has a different object that you can focus on to help you find a mindful state. A doorknob. “Look at the doorknob and focus on it,” he says. “Notice how shiny it is and notice other things about it, that will help you focus on the present.” 

And if you want something even simpler than that, you can always focus on your breathing. “It’s something we’re constantly doing,” says Dr. Strauss. “Follow your breath as it enters your nose or your mouth, goes through your throat and into your lungs. Hold it, and notice the tension there, then let it out and follow it out your lungs, back through your throat and out your mouth or nose. That will help you be more in the moment and no one will realize you’re doing it.” 

December 2023
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