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Staying Mindful In Uncertain Times Is Beneficial

With the current state of the world, you may find yourself missing the way things used to be or wondering what things will look like in the future. Thinking of the past or of the future is normal, even when there isn’t a global pandemic going on. However, if you find yourself dwelling on these thoughts or feeling like you are spiraling, there are things you can do to focus on the present.

According to the dictionary, mindfulness is the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something. For the purpose of this article, we can think of mindfulness as being aware of the present moment. When people think about mindfulness they often think of meditation and may think it will not work for them. While you can use meditation as a form of mindfulness, there are many other ways to be mindful as well. Before we jump into that, let’s focus on where mindfulness comes from and the science behind it.

Joaquin Selva, a psychologist who writes for Positive Psychology, talks about tracing mindfulness to different religions including, but not limited to, Buddhism and even Christianity. Chances are, if you have done any type of yoga, you have practiced mindfulness as they are both intricately connected.

The combination of the Eastern tradition of mindfulness and Western medicine has shown many benefits including decreasing stress and anxiety.

So, how do we know that mindfulness actually works? A study was conducted at Harvard University by Sara Lazar and others to test the brain’s gray matter after eight weeks of practicing mindfulness. Gray matter is the outer portion of the brain that is responsible for muscle control, the five senses, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control.

This study found that after practicing mindfulness for eight weeks there was an increase in the concentration of gray matter, especially around the areas associated with learning, memory, emotional regulation, perspective taking, and self-awareness.

While we do not know everything there is to know about the brain, it is likely that an increase in the concentration of gray matter in certain areas indicates an increase in the skill associated with those areas. This study also found that the amygdala decreased, which means a decrease in the fight, flight, or freeze response leading to an increased ability to deal with stress.

Another study conducted by Christopher Liddy, a doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management, found that mindfulness positively impacts human functioning overall, can improve attention, impact interpersonal behaviors, and provide an increase in empathy and compassion. The Cleveland Clinic has found that mindfulness can be connected to the optimization of mental health, a positive impact on the immune system, help with chronic pain, and help with insomnia.

There are easy ways to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. The most common is meditation through the use of apps like Headspace or Calm, the use of YouTube for guided meditation videos, or just sitting in a quiet space and noticing your breathing. Another common way to practice mindfulness is by completing a body scan. Contrary to its name, this is not a medical procedure and can be easily done at home.

To complete a body scan, all you need to do is focus on your body. You would try to notice anything and everything like spots of pain or discomfort or an increase in heart rate or breathing.

Then you could take steps to alleviate whatever it is you notice by doing things like changing position or taking deep breaths. Now that it is getting warmer outside, you could take a walk or spend more time outside to practice being mindful.

While you are outside, try to focus on what you are seeing, hearing, and even smelling. You could also make a game out of it for kids by seeing how many animals they can see or hear as a way to get them into the habit of practicing mindfulness.

Another easy way to practice mindfulness is by washing dishes. Similar to using your senses while outside, you can practice mindfulness while doing the dishes while focusing on the temperature of the water, the feel of the sponge you are using, and the scent of the soap. Engaging your senses in any activity is a great way to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. By really paying attention to your senses, you are forcing your brain to stop thinking about the past or future and making it focus on the present moment.

Practicing mindfulness does not have to be a complicated new habit. It can be practiced through simple activities you already do every day. Mindfulness has been shown to help people better manage anxiety, stress, chronic pain, and insomnia. Considering the current state of the world, when would a better time be to start a mindfulness practice?

If you find yourself struggling or are interested in mindfulness and other ways to manage your stress during this time, reach out to us at Family Services of the Chautauqua Region. We are located at 332 E. Fourth St., Jamestown and can be reached at 488-1971. Please, give us a call to schedule an appointment with a licensed therapist.

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