Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mindfulness

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the 'present.'" This quote about being in the present moment is from Kung Fu Panda, one of my favorite family movies. 

The ability to choose and control our focus of attention is something worth cultivating. Mindfulness is being fully present in our moment-to-moment experiences without being judgmental of the thoughts, sensations, or feelings we are experiencing. Often, our mind chatter, worries about what is going to happen in the future, thoughts about what we should have or could have done in the past, and judgments about ourselves and others, interfere with our ability to be in the here and now. We get stuck and then miss out on present opportunities. Benefits of mindfulness include increased acceptance, gratitude, and life satisfaction. Mindfulness also allows for increased options and choice in any given situation. When we can step back, observe, and accept our emotions, thoughts and sensations for what they are (just emotions, thoughts and sensations), we free ourselves, allowing for less reactivity and more choices/increased flexibility. Just because we have a thought (and researchers state we have between 50,000-70,000 thoughts per day), it doesn’t mean that thought is true, or that we have to attend to it. In other words, when we are mindful, we are less caught up in the past or worried about our future, and we feel more grounded and able to deal with our stressors. Other health benefits of mindfulness include a decrease in stress, anxiety, depression, blood pressure, chronic pain, and insomnia, as well as an improvement in relationships. 

Mindfulness doesn’t come easy. However, it is a skill that can improve with increased awareness and practice. One way to improve your mindfulness skills is to fully attend to a routine task. Take folding the laundry as an example. Tune into how each article of clothing feels as you fold it. See the shapes and colors. Smell the fabric. Feel the weight of the fabric. If your mind starts to wander, just notice that and bring your attention back to the sensations of folding laundry. Do not judge yourself for "getting off track." Re-attending is part of the process and can happen many times in a single mindfulness practice. You can try this with other routine “automatic pilot” tasks such as washing dishes, showering, eating, and driving. You can even exercise in a mindful way, focusing on an aspect of your workout such as how your muscles feel, your breath, the music, or the scenery. Using all of your senses will help you in your practice.

Another mindfulness exercise I like and want to introduce is called the "5-5-5." When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed emotionally or your mind is racing, first make an observation that this is happening. Then, gently allow yourself to notice and focus on 5 things you can feel/touch, 5 things you can hear, and 5 things you can see. This simple grounding exercise will help you and become less reactive and more open and creative. 

Have fun experimenting with mindfulness. J 

Register for our upcoming mindfulness classes by calling 1-800-DOCTORS. Fee: $30 per class
April 6, 2017 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Meridian Health Village at Jackson
May 4, 2017 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank
June 15, 2017 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Meridian Health Village at Jackson

For more information, visit www.MeridianIntegrativeMedicine.com

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