By Stephanie Schafer, M.Ed., LPC
As spring comes into full bloom, it often brings a sense of renewed energy. The season brings to mind spring cleaning and becoming more active and involved. It means the end of school for the year is near, and we begin thinking about summer plans – what activities, events, games, and vacations we will participate in.
With so much forward focus, and potential for stress to arise, this is a great time to talk about mindfulness: what it is, how to do it, and how to use it.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. This practice is a non-judgmental one. We are not categorizing thoughts and feelings as good or bad.
How to do it
Take a moment to check in with yourself. What are you thinking? How are you feeling? What sensations do you notice in your body? Use your senses. What can you smell, taste, touch, see, and hear? Do you notice places in your body that are tense or ache? Are your thoughts racing? Does your mind go blank? Notice these things with gentleness, and don’t judge them. Allow them to be what they are.
For me, the hardest part when I was learning mindfulness practice was noticing itches and not scratching them. I would just breathe through the feeling of the itch on my face or my hand, and allowing it to be what it was. This isn’t to say that you can’t scratch the itch if you notice it, but it was a way for me to bring my awareness back to my breath, and the itch subsided on its own.
How to use it
I like to describe anxious thoughts as our mind spinning in the past (“if only…”), or spinning in the future (“what if…”), or sometimes both. When we shift our mind to “what is,” we are in the present. Anxiety doesn’t live in the present moment. It is the worry about what is to come, the judgment we place on ourselves about what has passed, and often the restless feeling of needing to act on something.
This is an example of how we can use mindfulness to ease something like anxiety. By bringing our focus to the present, we are able to focus on “what is” and calm ourselves so we can tackle whatever the issue or worry is from a balanced and thoughtful place. When we practice this daily, we become more in tune with the present and better able to manage the stresses in our lives.
If you’d like to learn more about how to apply mindfulness in your life, you can contact The Village and join our Mindfulness Group. The next session begins May 8. Or request an appointment with a mental health professional at The Village office most convenient for you.