Over the past few years, the concept of mindfulness has been gaining momentum in the public sphere. And it's no wonder — we're all so stressed out! Finding time to focus on wellness is definitely a good thing, especially since so many people feel overwhelmed by the modern world.
In an oversaturated landscape of obligations and technology, many of us find that our sense of well-being is drained by the demands of the day. We need to find a way to recharge and nourish ourselves in stressful times. Beginning a mindfulness practice is the first step in building a more present you, and elevating your quality of life. That's why learning how to be mindful is such an important thing to do.
Although it might sound complicated, mindfulness can be as simple as remembering to pay attention to the present moment or simply take the time to breathe. Here, we'll discuss what mindfulness actually means, why it's important and a few simple tips for kick-starting your mindfulness journey. If you're wondering how to be more mindful, this article is a great place to start.
Breaking Free From The Negativity Cycle
In their groundbreaking book "Brain Wash, Detox Your Mind for Clearer Thinking, Deeper Relationships, and Lasting Happiness," Drs. David and Austin Pearlmutter discuss how negativity and stress can form a difficult-to-escape cycle that leaves people feeling trapped and overwhelmed by the negative circumstances of their lives.
The Danger of Quick Fixes
Individuals might experience unhappiness due to life circumstances, such as poor physical or mental health, strain or injury to their body, chronic stress or many other factors. This unhappiness leads them to seek out what the Pearlmutters call "quick fixes," a dopamine burst that causes instant gratification and temporarily increases feelings of well-being. Quick fixes could include snacking on cookies or other junk food, checking in with fluffy content on social media or any number of other things that cause temporary good feelings.
Our days are full of distractions designed to create the "quick fix" feedback loop the Pearlmutters warn us about, distracting us from our bodily sensations and experiences in the present moment. The worst offenders? Screens. Excessive screen time has been directly tied to negative mental health outcomes. Furthermore, the Pearlmutters warn that existing in a world full of phones and screens, as many people in the United States and other developed countries do, means we're not getting the kind of positive interactions we need to build a sense of community. "We spend our days ... scrolling, clicking, texting, activating the rewards circuit," they said.
Moderation and Awareness Can Help You Break Free
No one is immune to these simple pleasures, and there's nothing wrong with indulging in them (mindfully!) once in a while. Issues arise when you use these ways of self-soothing over and over, allowing yourself to develop a habit of chronic dependence on any or all of these short-term fixes. Many studies show that your health can be impacted by relying on familiar cycles of self-soothing without developing an awareness of how your habits are actually impacting your health. The Pearlmutters believe that these crutches only exacerbate the conditions that led you to seek out your quick fix to begin with, creating a cycle that can be difficult to escape.
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Why Mindfulness Matters
So how can people break free of the negativity cycle and find a more lasting path to happiness? The answer, as you might have already guessed, is mindfulness. As the Pearlmutters put it, "Your day is filled with opportunities to bring the brain's functions into balance." Maintaining a mindfulness practice is the key to finding this balance.
But what does mindfulness actually mean? Simply put, it's a way of paying attention to what's around you, staying attuned to your bodily sensations and being present in the moment. It sounds so simple, but there's a growing body of scientific evidence showing that taking the time to practice mindfulness has a powerful impact on the health of both your body and mind.
Throughout "Brain Wash," the Pearlmutters present a powerful body of evidence of the ways mindfulness can impact you throughout the day, leading to a healthier brain and a more positive experience of life. As the Pearlmutters put it, "Mindfulness techniques can give you a way to consciously regain control over your thoughts, allowing you to rewire your brain for mental balance and happiness, creating connections where they matter most and giving you the tools needed to deal with the stressors of modern life."
Simple Tools for Staying Mindful
The idea of mindfulness sounds so important and all-encompassing that for some, it's a struggle to know where to start. There are so many ways to practice mindfulness every day, without dramatically changing your routine. Even simply checking in with your body and breath is a good way to begin.
To give you a head start as you deepen your practice of mindfulness, we've collected three of our favorite places to learn how to practice mindfulness, along with easy tips to implement each one. Simply tune in to the present moment, and get ready to begin your mindfulness journey.
Indulge in Nature
In "Brain Wash," the Pearlmutters advocate spending time in nature because they believe it's one of the most simple things you can do to promote happiness and health. And there's a ton of science showing they're right! Studies show that there's a significant connection between spending time in nature and experiencing sensations of positive self-regard.
Experiencing a natural environment helps us reduce stress, reduces instances of intrusive thoughts, and brings enrichment to our lives. Here are some easy (and scientifically proven) ways of practicing mindfulness in nature:
- Sit and notice the nature around you. When you're at your desk, take a moment to look out the window. What do you feel? What do you see? Setting aside moments to check in with the immediate natural world help give us a break from social media and the demands of business, while focusing on body sensations helps ground us in our physical reality and pay attention to what we need in the present moment.
- Buy yourself a plant (or two!). Studies show that having living things around your work and living space helps increase levels of joy. The moments that you take to step away from work to water and care for your plants force you to pay attention and engage with the natural world, and taking the time to create a nurturing bond with another living thing (even if it's a cactus!) creates positive neural feedback that makes you feel good.
- Find ways to bring your routine outside for a sensory check-in. Exposing yourself to a natural environment gives you a chance to literally breathe in the natural world. In their research, the Pearlmutters found that " ... The mere sniff of a certain scent can shift brain waves and activity from those associated with disease and cognitive decline to those linked with health and wellness." Stop and smell the roses on a neighborhood walk. Take a deep breath! Increased awareness of the life that surrounds you does wonders to quiet the mind.
Developing a meditation practice can be a daunting prospect. When many of us think of meditation, we picture a yellow-robed monk spending days in silent contemplation — not an experience many people are prepared to practice in their own life! But the science supporting meditation is strong.
According to the Pearlmutters, meditative practices linked to mindfulness " ... Reestablish brain connections so that we can use our high-level brain functions to better navigate our lives ... and reconnect to our own deep sense of meaning and wellness." Sounds good, right? Here are a few tips for developing a mediation practice of your own:
- Focus on the breath. Consciously breathing in and out, feeling the sensation of the air filling your lungs, is a simple yet highly impactful place to start. Try counting the breaths you take — five in and five out — paying attention to the way deep breathing feels. Deep breathing has a powerful impact on your body's ability to handle pain, stress and negative emotions, which can help you break free from the negativity cycle.
- Try a guided meditation. We live in a golden age of meditation technology, and you can find guided breath work and meditation classes everywhere you look, from YouTube to apps and beyond, so you're sure to find a style that appeals to you! Netflix even recently added an illustrated guided meditation class to their offerings, which could bring new meaning to the phrase, "Netflix and chill."
- Link meditation and movement. For something that sounds so simple, focusing on the breath is surprisingly difficult. Some beginning meditators find that combining movement and meditation gives them access to a deeper level of focus. Try adding conscious breath to your next yoga session or focusing on the effects of your breathing as you take a walk.
For the Pearlmutters, meditation is fundamental to successfully practicing mindfulness. "Because meditation focuses on areas of the brain that help us stay focused and present, it helps us reprogram our brains for well-being, empathy and gratitude. It also acts as a shield against ongoing efforts to hijack our brains, strengthening our ability to resist." Adding even 10 minutes of mediation to your daily routine is an easy way to start your mindfulness journey.
Make Technology Work for You
Not to sound like your mom, but you definitely spend too much time on your phone! We all do. Study after study shows that our experiences of the world are increasingly filtered through our screens. And not only does more time with technology decrease physical activity, but it may also negatively impact your mental health.
But screen time is not all bad. You can engage with technology in a more conscious way, taking a mindful approach to screen time. As the Pearlmutters put it, "A mindful approach to digital media consumption means bringing awareness to the way you're using those technologies ... as well as an awareness of the way they're affecting you.
- Be aware of the power of social media to distort. Comparing yourself to other people online can create feelings of competition that are unhealthy and lead to increased feelings of dissatisfaction with your own life and body. Studies show that women (especially teens) are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of self-comparison. Pay attention to the way you react to your social media experiences. Does the content you view make you feel good? If not, it might be time to take a break.
- Practice safe screens. Spending too much time with technology (particularly in the context of an intimate partner relationship) can be draining. But because technology oversaturation is such a common issue for phone users, there are many ways to take action against nonmindful tech use. You can set a timer to remind you to put down the phone and engage with your environment —or even set a screentime lock to prevent you from overindulging. Airplane mode prevents your device from sending dinging notifications that tempt you to pick up the screen and scroll for a while. These simple steps will help you develop a more intentional (and less compulsive) approach to screen time.
- Take advantage of mindfulness technology solutions. While your device can be a portal to distraction, it can also be a source of joy. Many available apps encourage mindfulness — from relaxing games to meditation apps. Do some investigating and find an app that speaks to you. That way, when you impulsively pick up your phone, you'll have a route to positively direct your focus, rather than settling in to endlessly doom scroll.
Your Mind and Hair
At VEGAMOUR, we believe in something we call hair wellness. Beautiful, healthy hair isn't just about the products you use or the food you eat — though that's important. Strong, gorgeous hair is also a result of how you care for yourself, which includes managing stress because higher cortisol levels are connected to hair loss. So we're here to help you on every step of your hair wellness journey, and mindfulness is a great place to start.
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Stay in the Now
Whatever approach you use to reduce screen time, remember to stay mindful. Notice your shifts in mood. Do you feel better when you take a walk in nature instead of watching the next episode of the show you're binge-watching? What actions can you take to help soothe your body and mind?
Paying attention to your responses is the key to unlocking the door to mindfulness. By reading this article and indulging your curiosity, you've already taken the first step! Now, step two. Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out.
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