There is only one place where we can live, and that is in the present. Dr Joe Kosterich talks about mindfulness, or being focused on what you are doing in the present moment, and what mindfulness can do for your stress levels.
Mindfulness is a term that means lots of different things to lots of different people so I’m not going to get too technical about the definitions. Essentially, what it means is being in the present moment and having an awareness of yourself and your surrounds. Now that sounds fairly obvious until we actually stop and realise that we do spend a lot of time on autopilot. Classic examples of smokers that light up without even knowing that they’re doing it, or even people that eat biscuits or chocolate without even remembering that they’ve done it. Things happen on autopilot; being mindful means focusing on what you’re doing at this present moment.
The interesting thing is that as soon as we are in the present moment, we reduce our stress levels because virtually all forms of stress are about things that have happened in the past, or things we are worried about that might happen in the future. What’s going on with our jobs, can I pay my bills, am I going to have enough to eat next week – all sorts of things. As soon as we are in the present moment though, we are actually taking the brain and the mind away from lots of idle thoughts.
One can take this to various degrees and the people that take this the furthest are the yoga fanatics who focus on their breathing to become centred and present. You don’t need to go and live in a cave to do that and we don’t need to meditate for three-hours either. Guided relaxations and meditations can be part of an approach to mindfulness but it’s also a state of mind, as you might expect. What it means is bringing your awareness and attention to what you’re doing at the moment, so for example, if you’re eating an orange, you actually focus on the orange (rather than the TV). If you’re going for a run, then focus on the actual running; if you’re with a person, focus on that person and to what they’re saying, rather than thinking about what you’re going to do next week. But the mind can and does drift; tens of thousands of thoughts go through our minds each day, sort of like watching a news reel. If you can start to slow that process down, and start to be what’s sometimes called ‘the observer’ and observe your thoughts, this will prevent you from getting too wrapped up in them and help deal with stress. When you are aware and mindful, you start to be aware of what you do by yourself as well as it’s impact on other people. It’s much harder to get angry with somebody when you’re mindful because you’re actually thinking about what your actions do and you’re quite conscious of them.
Some of you might be sitting out there and thinking that this is all very hard and how do I do this. It is actually quite simple: its about pulling yourself into the present moment, saying what am I doing right now? Not what did I do last week or what am I going to do next week. Certainly some slow deep breathing does help to get the process started, and to take it a bit further, you can get guided meditations or relaxations and they can be quite helpful. But some slow deep breathing and focusing on the breath will bring you into the present moment. Once you start to get the capacity and the skill – which is not difficult – to be in the present moment, then you become aware of what you’re doing. You become aware of your thoughts and start to see them as something that is not you but something that you have; so rather than being your thoughts, you have thoughts. Immediately, you are less driven by them which comes back to stress.
We have covered a very big concept in a short period of time and I would certainly encourage you to get more information on mindfulness and explore it for yourself. In terms of helping with stress, sleep and dealing with other people, being mindful is something that is both simple and really important.