Many of us developed less-than-healthy habits in 2020. And even though last year is now in our rearview (whew!), we’ve likely brought some stress and anxiety into the new year that we’d like to leave behind.
A great way to welcome 2021 is with a commitment to wellness and making choices that lead you toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Sound overwhelming? It doesn’t have to be. Remember, even small steps move you forward.
Make mindfulness your first step
Practicing mindfulness is a great start to boosting wellness. But what is mindfulness? Think of it as being aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the present moment, without passing judgment. Because mindfulness is about paying attention to experiences with curiosity and openness, it offers an objective way to notice habits and determine which ones you want to change and maintain.
Studies link mindfulness to a host of benefits, reducing:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
You can practice mindfulness in everyday life using these tips:
Mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably. Meditation is actually a formal way to practice mindfulness. Meditation trains your mind to focus on a single task and stay aware of the present moment.
Meditation doesn’t require special equipment or in-depth training. It’s simple, but not necessarily easy, thanks to the 6,000 thoughts that researchers estimate vie for your attention every day. But carving out as little as five minutes a day to practice will train your mind to focus. Try this simple approach:
- Take a seat – a chair, on the floor, at your desk – wherever you’re comfortable.
- With eyes closed or gazing downward, focus on one specific thing. Make it simple – a phrase, your hands resting on your legs, your breath coming in your nose and out your mouth, or how your belly rises and falls as you breathe.
- Notice when your mind wanders (because it will, repeatedly). When it does, make no judgment about your thoughts, let them go and return to your focus. That’s it.
- Eat slowly and make it the good stuff
Be mindful about what and how you eat. Nourish yourself with fresh, whole foods, locally sourced when possible. Go for colorful fruits and vegetables packed with nutrients. Sit down for each meal, putting your fork down after every bite. Savor the smell, taste and texture of your food and take a moment to appreciate the effort that went into making it.
- Give single tasks your full attention
Multitasking feels like a necessity to keep up in a busy world. Catching up on email while you’re on a Zoom call. Folding laundry while drilling your daughter on spelling words. Scrolling through Facebook during dinner.
You may feel like you’re accomplishing more by combining tasks, but research reveals we lose the ability to focus as we multitask. Dividing attention between multiple tasks actually reduces productivity. Practice mindfulness throughout the day, giving your full awareness to one task at a time, even everyday tasks like brushing your teeth, making the bed and driving home from work.
Give people and conversations the courtesy of your full attention and you’ll both benefit. Who doesn’t like knowing they’re heard? Mindfulness impacts how you interact. Eye contact, nodding, smiling and asking questions signal your focus is on them. Mindfulness helps build relationships, an important component of wellness.
- Pay attention to your environment
Sprinkle mindful moments throughout the day and take in your surroundings, wherever you are. Think about the warmth of the sun on your arm. Feel the chill of the early morning air as it hits your nostrils. Listen to your heels hit the wooden floor as you walk down the hallway. Every mindful moment is time for your body to relax.
- Practice gratitude
Take the opportunity to say “thanks” when you can. Notice what you’re really grateful for and how that gratitude feels. Make a practice of beginning or ending (or both!) each day by writing down five things you’re thankful for. Research shows that feeling and expressing gratitude not only boosts your physical and mental health, but it also strengthens relationships, too.
Mindfulness puts you in control
Mindfulness takes back control from thoughts that we too often let run the show: Those that lead us to worry about things we can’t control. Like most habits that are good for us, mindfulness reaps more benefits the more you practice it. Whether you incorporate the practice throughout your day or take a five-minute break to focus on your breath, you’ll find yourself in better control of emotions and less reactive to stressful situations.