By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor
Living in the moment may sound like something you can only do at a spa or on a mountaintop, but practicing mindfulness can happen anytime and anywhere. Whether in the car on the way to work or at the dinner table, this science-backed strategy helps us manage feelings of stress and depression, reduce negative thoughts and distractions, and improve mood. Here’s how to get started.
In the Car — Focused Not Frazzled
Americans spend a lot of time in cars. Each day, many of us drive an hour or more to and from work. Rush-hour traffic, delays and accidents can cause us to feel stressed out, anxious and on the verge of road rage. We view discourteous drivers as selfish or dangerous and that adds more stress, says Diane Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Orlando Health. But it could be something else that’s affecting their driving — maybe they’re running late or heading to the hospital — instead of the character flaws we imagine.
Mindfulness helps us recognize this.
Mindful driving is a practice that can help reduce the physical and emotional stresses we feel while on the road. It teaches us to:
- Set aside distractions such as the radio or cell phone.
- Notice what we see in front of us.
- Recognize physical sensations such as the car’s movement or the texture of the steering wheel.
- Be aware of our movements while driving.
- Listen to the sounds of road and wind.
- Deliberately let go of aggravations (such as red lights or slow drivers) that we can’t change.
- Experience (not just endure) our time on the road.
On Your Plate — Eating vs. Dieting
Many of us lead busy lives driven by loaded schedules that leave little time to think — really think — about our relationships with food. We might grab a bite to eat without a second thought. Or, if we sit down for a meal, we’re too distracted by a constant stream of updates on our phones to actually taste what we’re eating. We view dieting — essentially depriving ourselves of food choices — as the best option for losing weight or shaping up.
These scenarios are where mindful eating comes in, helping us separate emotional and stress eating from physical hunger, says Robinson. We can build healthier relationships with food by:
- Practicing purposeful food selection and preparation
- Choosing foods we enjoy that nourish the body
- Acknowledging and accepting what we like or dislike about foods without judging ourselves (let’s face it — not everyone loves kale)
- Knowing how to eat on a moment-by-moment basis
- Becoming more aware of cues that we’re physically hungry or full so we know when to start and stop eating
In Your Heart — Relationships
Researchers believe mindfulness affects areas of the brain that direct our attention and emotions to support more positive and compassionate interactions with those closest to us. It also helps us improve our listening skills, adds Robinson. All of that contributes to stronger relationships.
We can practice mindfulness by:
- Being more present and attentive to family, friends, spouses and partners.
- Instead of checking email and texts, we can focus on those important to us.
- Reducing negative emotional reactions such as angry words and actions
- Enhancing self-awareness and reducing destructive behaviors such as arguing
- Increasing empathy for others and understanding their thoughts, feelings and emotions
Discover more ways to boost your mental health at OrlandoHealthBlog.com.