One of the really easy ways to practice mindfulness is to do so when you are already relaxed and calm. Although all your practice will help you when you’re feeling less zen, mindfulness is a tool that comes in really handy when we’re feeling especially, stressed, anxious, sad, or are in the midst of another overwhelming feeling. That being said, it’s also a lot harder to practice because we’re up against a whole lot more. Here are ten ways to practice mindfulness when you’re really struggling!
1. Pay Attention To Your Breath
When we’re at our least zen, our breathing is bound to be irregular, which causes us to feel more stressed. The sympathetic nervous system will engage when we’re in overwhelming situations and moods, causing our breath pattern to change and our inhale to become longer than our exhale- this is like your breathing when you’re running. As you might have guessed, the speed of our breathing also increases.
Keeping this in mind, just notice if you’re breathing in this short, quick pattern, but never force yourself to change the pattern of your breathing. Noticing will help you do that naturally. By changing our focus from the stress trigger to our breath, we are helping our body to naturally engage the parasympathetic nervous system. As your mind and body calms, your parasympathetic nervous system will focus on conserving energy by slowing the breathing, and allowing you to take deeper breaths. In the end, your exhale should be about twice as long as your inhale to really calm you down. Remember: never force yourself to get there. Bottling the feelings will not work and you will not be practicing mindfulness.
2. Count To Ten In Breath
Another way to pay attention to the breath without forcing it to change is to count your breaths. This is one of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness, especially in situations where duration or the actual passing of time is affecting how I’m feeling. For instance: if you get stressed when traveling, counting will help you pass the time while also distracting you and helping you to calm down. This is also a great skill to have for repetitive tasks that don’t take that much of your brain power, or even just walking!
To count your breaths, breathe in and count ‘1,’ then breath out and count ‘1.’ Continue to 2, all the way up to 10. When you reach 10, breathe in and count ’10,’ breathe out and count ’10,’ and then count back down to 1. At 10 and 1, I usually include one in and out breath to finish a set, and then include another to start the next set. I will keep counting up and down until I reach my destination, but you can stop after one set if that works for you. If you lose track of where you are, start again at 1. This will help train your attention, and keep you from allowing yourself to be distracted by the overwhelming thing.
3. Visually Focus On Your Surroundings
This is one of the ways to practice mindfulness in situations in which patience is involved, and in which you must be relatively still. Practicing mindfulness is about honing your attention, and in this technique you will be doing so visually.
Pick something to hone your focus on. I would choose something calming, such as a tree, a fallen leaf, a pebble, the pattern of a carpet, etc. Look at that thing deeply, as if you were to draw or paint it. What is the form? What shapes does it make with the things near it? What is the texture like? What colors are present? Try not to stop each of these questions with answers like: a tree shape, lines, rough, and brown. Instead, be curious about the answers. Question your first thought, and then investigate it. You might realize that you initially missed something, or you might find that you can allow yourself to be more creative, or more thorough. There is so much in life we miss because we don’t pay attention.
4. Focus On The Sounds
If sound is a more appropriate choice for you or your situation, you can use the same idea as number 3, but shift your focus to what you hear. These ways to practice mindfulness are similar, but good for different situations. Use your intuition to determine which is best for you, or switch if one feels wrong.
I often use this technique when I am particularly annoyed at someone for talking loudly on their cellphone or to a friend. Instead of getting mad at them (or after I do), I try to hear what they’re saying. I try to understand their tone of voice: how are they feeling? I try to listen to the cadence of the way they speak: what kind of rhythm are they speaking in? I try to empathize with their situation.
Once, a fellow passenger had a phone interview on a train. After finishing the phone call, she spoke loudly to her companions about her job prospects. The news was positive, and I tried to cultivate joy and gladness for her instead of being annoyed that she was talking. You can also use this mindfulness technique for screaming children, loud animals, or even traffic and construction noise. Be curious about what you’re hearing. You can always try to imagine it like music.
5. Plant Your Feet On The Floor
One of the physical ways to practice mindfulness is to pay attention to the soles of your feet. This is not a part of the body we often pay attention to, and yet, the soles of our feet do so much work for us: standing, walking, carrying our weight all day, every day. Whether sitting or standing, planting your feet firmly on the floor will help to ground you, and to help you pay attention to how you’re feeling.
Place your feet on the floor about hip distance apart. Try to spread and flatten your feet against the ground, while still maintaining your natural arch. Try to align your ankles and your knees in the middle of your feet, and to distribute the weight throughout each foot. Pay attention to how it feels, and how you feel, and allow yourself to feel that way. Cultivate gratitude for your feet and all the work that they do throughout each day. Imagine your feet connecting to earth, imagine a layer of heat between you and the earth, imagine a layer of cool water between you and the earth. Continue playing with this grounded, centered imagery, and allow yourself to rest on one that works for you.
6. Feel Your Body Against The Chair
This is another one of the physical ways to practice mindfulness. Planting your feet on the floor is very grounding, whereas feeling your body against a chair will be more centering, while still allowing for some grounding. As you practice more and more, you will become more adept at recognizing which technique will suit your situation the best.
Sit up in a chair, grounding your seat bones or pelvic bones into the seat and straightening your back. Sitting away from the back of the chair will help to cultivate confidence and self-reliance. Resting against the chair can create a sense of comfort and release. Pay special attention to your mid to low back, and imagine pushing ever so slightly through that area. It is common for this space to become sore. Notice how your body feels, and resolve any tension you might be feeling. Allow your neck and the tops of your shoulders to relax, gently sloping away from your ears. Allow the center of your ribcage to rise and fall with your breath. Allow the cavity of your belly to become soft and supple. Be compassionate towards your body, and offer support to yourself as you relax.
7. Use A Scent
Using a scent is one of the perceptual ways to practice mindfulness. The excellent thing about using a scent is that overtime, as your train yourself, anytime you smell your chosen scent it should automatically calm you down. A very common choice would be lavender, another would be eucalyptus. I once had a professor who had us practice mindfulness before every class. She used the scent of orange by bringing a bag of clementines and having each student who wanted one crack it open, filling the air with the scent of bright citrus. Using a scent you already have calming associations with will assist you, such as the smell of cinnamon, which might remind you of cookies, the holidays, or your beloved grand mother.
Essentially, take deep inhales and exhales of your chosen scent. You can use a physical item, or a good quality essential oil. Breathing in this smell deeply while practicing one of the above techniques is best, although you may also contemplate the aroma itself, the way it makes you feel, the memories, places, or people you associate with it, and so on. Train frequently to unlock the ‘I can calm down just by smelling this scent’ level of this mindfulness technique.
8. Use An Object
This is another of the physical ways to practice mindfulness, focusing on touch. Objects such as silly putty, stress balls, little figurines, crystals, seashells, a special necklace, or anything really will work. Similar to the use of scent, you can choose an object that you have particular associations with, such as a seashell you found on vacation or a stone that you picked up at your favorite place. Try to choose something that is easy to carry around with you, and pleasant to touch. Think of this like a child with their favorite toy or blanket. Having it with you will help give you a sense of calm.
Hold the object in your palm, and focus on how it feels against your skin. Feel the temperature, texture, and weight of the object. Notice any irregularities. Think about the object: how does it make you feel? Why did you choose this particular object? When did you get this particular object? Continue your curiosity. Allow yourself to breath. Allow yourself to be glad and grateful for this object and all of its associations and memories.
9. Imagine Yourself As A Child Or Animal
This is one of the mental ways to practice mindfulness. Imagining yourself as a child, animal, or something else you feel naturally tender and compassionate to will help you cultivate the ability to be compassionate towards yourself. We are often very hard on ourselves, especially when we are at our least zen, telling ourselves that we should be calmer, stronger, or better, when in reality, we should only be more compassionate.
For me, this practice takes place in my heart and extends somewhat to my belly. It could feel different for you. Imagine yourself as a something tender, imagining yourself both as the compassionate actor and the tender child, animal, plant, feather, etc. Think of how you feel towards the tender thing, imagine keeping it safe, imagine what it would feel like to be kept safe.
This technique is wonderful for cultivating our ability to meet our own needs. We are often overwhelmed or stressed because our needs are not met. We ourselves know best what it is that we require to meet those needs. Thus, imagining yourself as having needs to be met as something tender, and meeting those needs as something compassionate, will ultimately help you feel safe, grounded, loved, and calm.
10. Write, Draw, Move
Expression is one of the ways to practice mindfulness that involves releasing what’s bothering you. Writing about it, drawing, or doing a physical activity can help take you mind off of your worries and instead focus you on doing something. Writing is good if you want to process your thoughts, but to allow yourself to be present, moving would be the best option. Drawing is a good opportunity to do both, plus you can focus your attention on what you’re drawing as I mentioned earlier!
How can you be mindful today? Let us know if you have your own technique!
Feature Image Source: via Pexels @daria, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-standing-beside-aloe-vera-plant-1589904/
Photos: via Pexels @kaueluz, @muhammad-lutfy, @alohaphotostudio, @steshkawillems, @daria, @algrey, @cottonbro, @valeriya, @kenzero14, @rethaferguson
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