By Camille Capili
Under stressful times, living in the present can be challenging. Here are three ways to effectively manage stress and practice living in the moment.
In the library, a student sits and opens their planner to examine their schedule for the week: each day is packed to the brim–– work shifts, exams and errands needing to be completed. The anxiety begins to set in.
It’s not just this week — it’s the next one, the one after and the one following that as well. The flow of school, work and obligations is nonstop; rinse and repeat, with the only end in sight being the short breaks that come to pass.
Next thing you know, life has passed by in the blink of an eye. In a moment of realization, it makes us feel remorseful for the time we missed—those few weeks or months, now in the past. While going through the motions, it feels as if we barely exist within the flow of time.
The long-standing question remains: how can we steady the pace of life despite its quickening rate?
A solution to this dilemma reveals itself in simple psychology: the practice of mindfulness. It’s commonly used in stress-relief practices and plays an integral role in lifestyles aiming to reduce stress and develop a deeper, intimate sense of what it means to be present.
Understanding the concrete definition of mindfulness can be somewhat unclear; it’s not well known, and at the same time, it doesn’t sound like a new concept either. But, what does mindfulness entail?
In its entirety, mindfulness is a type of meditation that aims to decrease suffering. Mindfulness is rooted in training the mind to think in the present — to increase our awareness without paying attention to the suffering — which manifests as problems, worries or judgments.
Dr. Julie Meisels, an experienced clinical psychologist in the Counseling and Psychological Services at CSUF, articulates the objective, “(T)o think in a curious, open and productive way, deliberately paying attention to our attention.”
Mindfulness is directed toward a relaxed type of alertness, emphasizing a focus on a person, task or situation without any burdening thoughts of the past or future. The origin of mindfulness dates to ancient Buddhist philosophy from around a couple thousand years ago, meaning the technique itself has not just recently arisen; instead, it has been in use for centuries before it was introduced into the Western mainstream.
Various mindfulness-based therapies, coaching and exercises have been developed over time to create a more effective implementation in day-to-day life. There’s no question why mindfulness is emphasized in modern medicine, psychology and psychiatry.
With mindfulness becoming more universally known, its rise in popularity can be explained by the conditions we live in. Our environments and situations can produce stress levels, feeling almost unlivable, notably with the addition of experiencing COVID-19.
Because of this, mindfulness has accomplished a process addressing some of the mental hardships, such as anxiety and depression, that have increased throughout our lives. Especially in recent times, those of us seeking alleviation from unpleasant feelings use this relaxation mechanism to regulate emotions at an improved level.
1, 2, 3, Breathe
It’s a powerful means to reduce stress, enhance performance and gain awareness in our minds; the key here is that this exercise can help anyone because anyone can do it.
Even in events that don’t bring about negative or difficult emotions, the advantages of this stress-reducing method are valuable as it shows improvement in mood, levels of happiness and overall well-being.
Now we know a bit of this interesting notion, let’s get to what we’ve been waiting for: how does one practice mindfulness? Several strategies are convenient to begin a mindful journey.
1. Mindfulness is meditation — breathing exercises are a wonderful place to start. According to mindful.org, breathing mindfully means expanding our breaths to calm our parasympathetic nervous systems, the bodily response that causes us to feel anxious or on edge. Connecting with our bodies by inhaling and exhaling in a slow, measured manner is the key to maximizing this exercise.
2. Walking meditation is another mindful method. Next time you go for a walk, think about the sensations of your movements as you take each stride with purpose. Be unhurried with your pace; observe your surroundings, feel the soles of your feet touch the ground with each step. Doing this will let you experience the full benefits of mindful walking.
3. Because the mind and body are interconnected, doing yoga and stretching can give you a break by allowing physical movement to loosen stiff muscles and increase energy and concentration levels.
When you sit in the library and flip the pages of your planner to see the incredible amount of work that needs to be done and the deadlines and the worries that come with them, remember to stop for a moment.
Breathe. Feel the air flowing in and out of your body. What does the air smell like? What are you doing right now as you read this? What sensations do you have while doing them? Remember this feeling. Understand the idea that right now, as you read this, you exist; you are alive and that’s beautiful in itself.