By Gina McSheffrey Emmons, PhD
At the start of Fall, we are surrounded by many changes with the days becoming shorter, the air feeling a bit cooler, and the leaves changing into beautiful colors. This time of year is a reminder of transition and change, which can cause us to reflect on some of the changes we may want to make in our own lives. One change you may want to consider is becoming more mindful in your daily life. Mindfulness is defined as a state of being fully present in the moment without getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings. Through the practice of mindfulness, you learn to make space for your passing thoughts and feelings where you recognize and accept them without assigning any judgement to them.
If practiced daily, mindfulness can have powerful benefits such as reducing symptoms related to stress, anxiety, and depression, which can impact your overall mental health and physical well-being. It teaches you to retrain your mind where you may eventually become less reactive to challenges or triggers in your life. If you often ruminate about the past or worry about the “what if’s” in the future, then you are not living in the moment and you are missing out on the here and now. When you are less present in life’s moments, you may start to feel less content and unfulfilled. To change that, you can choose to ground yourself and live in and enjoy the present time. To measure your tendency to be mindful in your daily life, start by doing a quick self-assessment by taking a brief questionnaire called the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale. Access to this scale and more information about it can be found by going to this link:
If you are interested in learning more about how to practice mindfulness, here are a few simple techniques:
- Mindful Breathing: Find a quiet place and slowly take several deep breaths. While you are doing this, notice how the air feels as you breathe it in and out of your body. Allow your mind to quiet down and focus just on your breathing. Recognize your passing thoughts without judgement and then return your focus to your breathing. For some people, this may be initially difficult to do on their own. There are plenty of guided breathing/meditation websites, videos, and apps that can help with getting started. It may take a bit of practice before it starts to feel more natural.
- Noticing your Environment: Use your senses to take in your surroundings. Fall is the perfect time to get outdoors and go for a mindful walk. You can make note of what you see around you by using your 5 senses to really experience the moment. Try to look for subtle, less obvious things that you would not normally notice. You can make note of 5 things you see (e.g., different shades of leaf colors, different patterns of clouds in the sky, etc.); 4 things you hear (e.g., distant sounds nearby, leaves rustling in the wind, etc.); 3 things you can touch (e.g., the jacket you are wearing, your feet walking on crunchy leaves, etc.); 2 things you can smell (e.g., the smell of the wet ground or firewood burning, etc.); and 1 thing you can taste (e.g., the mint in your mouth or the gum you are chewing, etc.). This technique helps to ground you in the moment and really take notice of what is around you…you can do it anywhere! Even try doing it while performing routine, mundane tasks such as cooking dinner or folding laundry!
- Mindful Eating: Take time to notice how the texture, the flavors, and how each bite of food feels in your mouth. Taking the time to enjoy your food can help with slowing yourself down instead of rushing through a meal. Maybe some Fall foods remind you of special moments in your life with family and friends, thus fostering a more positive and connected eating experience.
- Body Scanning: While in a comfortable position, take a few minutes and notice how your body feels and what emotions you are experiencing in the moment. You can start with scanning your body from your head to your toes and notice how each part of your body feels. You may notice the areas where you carry the most tension, which may require some focus for tension release. This process of scanning helps to promote body awareness, calming, and relaxation.
These are just some techniques that can help bring your wandering mind back to the present moment, which will enable you to better cope with any anxiety/stress you may be experiencing in your life. There are many other techniques and guidelines for practicing mindfulness. Trying out and practicing different ones will help you decide which technique(s) work best for you. As you experience the Fall season this year, try to notice all of the wonderful changes around you and make a change for yourself, to be more mindful each day with everyday tasks. Be patient and allow yourself time to achieve a more relaxed and present state of mind. Make a change to be more present in your life!