A hot new intervention in therapy in the last 15 years is the use of something called “mindfulness”. It is a cognitive behavioral technique that is aimed at helping a person learn to train their mind to live in the “here and now”. It is commonly used to treat depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and related disorders. It is also used to help athletes with their functioning and with people who are suffering from chronic illness to manage pain and other symptoms. A great book on using mindfulness to treat depression can be seen here.
The truth is that most of our worry, stress, and anxiety comes from thoughts of the PAST or worries for the FUTURE.
When we are stressed what can be most helpful is gently guiding our mind to the HERE and NOW by getting in touch with our senses.
This discipline, like all others, takes practice. It is suggested that these “here and now” exercises be practiced on a regular, daily basis.
So, for what it is worth…I encourage you to give your mind a break from the frenzied roller coaster of backward and forward thinking.
Want to get started? Here are some common mindfulness, “here and now” practices you can try on a regular basis. You can find these on many different websites across the Internet.
Give it a shot! You might be surprised at how your brain frenzy slows down and your gratitude goes up.
Here and Now Exercise 1
1. Take one bite of an apple slice (or some other fruit) and then close your eyes. Do not begin chewing yet.
2. Try not to pay attention to the ideas running through your mind, just focus on the apple. Notice anything that comes to mind about taste, texture, temperature and sensation going on in your mouth.
3. Begin chewing now. Chew slowly, just noticing what it feels like. It’s normal that your mind will want to wander off. If you notice you’re paying more attention to your thinking than to the chewing, just let go of the thought for the moment and come back to the chewing. Notice each tiny movement of your jaw.
4. In these moments you may find yourself wanting to swallow the apple. See if you can stay present and notice the subtle transition from chewing to swallowing.
5. As you prepare to swallow the apple, try to follow it moving toward the back of your tongue and into your throat. Swallow the apple, following it until you can no longer feel any sensation of the food remaining.
6. Take a deep breath and exhale.
Other ideas to help you eat “mindfully”:
Eat with chopsticks, eat with your non-dominant hand, chew your food 30 to 50 times per bite, eat without TV, newspaper or computer, eat sitting down, put the proper portions of food on your plate and try to make the meal last at least 20 minutes.
Here and Now Exercise 2
1. First, set your intention to walk mindfully, in the “here and now”. Take a few deep breaths, and just acknowledge that during your walk you will try to be aware of your environment and your internal state (i.e., thoughts, feelings, sensations). There are no set rules for this walk, and it can be done in any location.
2. As you begin to walk, first notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground. Notice the process of moving your legs. What muscles tense or relax as you move? Notice where you are stepping, the quality of each step (i.e., are you stepping hard or lightly onto the ground), and the feel of the ground beneath your feet or shoes.
3. Expand your awareness to notice your surroundings. As you walk, what do you see, smell, hear, taste, and feel? How does the air feel on your skin? What do you notice around you?
4. Expand your awareness so that you remain aware of the sensation of walking and the external environment while you also become aware of your internal experiences, such as your thoughts and emotions.
Here and Now Exercise 3
1. Start by approaching your car/truck with the intention of being mindful…of being in the “here and now”.
2. Notice each of the actions involved in starting the car: opening the door, sitting down, putting on your seatbelt, putting the keys in the ignition, turning the keys. Be aware of the sensations in your body throughout. Notice the feeling of sitting down, the feel of the cold metal key in your hand.
3. As you pull out of your parking space, notice the sensation of motion, and the feeling of your hands on the steering wheel. Expand your awareness so that you are really aware of all of the things in your field of vision. In your mind, label each of the steps of your behavior (e.g.,”I am checking my rear view mirror. There is nothing in the way, I am backing up”).
4. Continue practicing being aware of your experience of driving. If you notice that thoughts have pulled you away from the experience (e.g., you are thinking about something in the past or future), just gently shift your attention back to the experience of driving.
5. Each time you stop at a red light or stop sign, use that as a cue to come back to the experience of driving. Our minds very easily wander to other things when we are driving because it is a habitual behavior. Each time you are stopped, just remind yourself to come back to being aware of driving.
6. Continue to drive mindfully until you arrive at your destination.