Mindfulness and you.

With the holiday season approaching, I figured that I should speak a bit about mindfulness.  It is defined as an “open and receptive awareness and attention, or quality of consciousness, characterized by a clear awareness of the present moment” (Brown & Ryan, 2003).  In other words, it’s being “present” in the moment (see what I did there?)  All jokes aside, mindfulness has the potential to play an important role in our daily routine, as it encourages “… fully attending to and [being] aware of what is going on for himself or herself at any given moment, but is not overwhelmed by or subjected to those experiences or immediately judging or reactive to them.”  (Garland et. al, 2015).  So, we take time to study, feel, and interpret the situation around us, and then act.  Mindfulness has also been shown to decrease stress, as those who practiced mindfulness demonstrated “… appraising of situations as less stressful and using more adaptive strategies in coping with stress.” (Garland et. al, 2015).  When we step back and fully understand the situation, we may realize that it doesn’t pose as much of a threat to us as initially anticipated, and is therefore less distressing.  Additionally, even if the situation is a problematic as anticipated, increased evaluation gives us time to give a more educated thought as to our next action/coping mechanisms, which in turn reduces our stress, since we are more prepared.

Mindfulness also has the potential to affect how we eat.  If we are more aware of what we are putting into our bodies, or the speed, we can regulate our intake.  Mindfulness has been used to treat various symptoms of binge eating disorder (BED) and guided practice addresses issues such as “controlling responses to varying emotional states, making conscious food choices, developing an awareness of hunger and satiety cues, and cultivating self-acceptance.” (Kristeller et. al, 2010) While most of us don’t struggle with BED, I know that we can occasionally find ourselves eating more than we should, or using it as an emotional crutch, or even as something to do (ever heard of “eating because you’re bored”?)  If we sit back and think about what we’re eating, what is going into the food/drinks/sauces, and becoming aware of the mental state we are in when we eat, or how we eat, we may be able to focus on cultivating better eating patterns or a healthier diet.  I know for a fact that I struggle with snacking when I am inactive for a long period of time.  Is it because I’m using energy at a commensurate rate, and can’t eat enough to keep up?  Likely not.  It’s because my brain perceives it as something to do.   When I take a step back and think, I realize that I am constantly snacking because I crave stimulation, so I choose something else to do.  In this case, mindfulness directly affected a maladaptive behavior simply because I chose to think of it, I didn’t act mindlessly.  I would encourage you all to do the same, to think while you do. 

Lastly, mindfulness can be an important action while exercising.  If we aware of our bodies, and how the respond to activity, we can potentially prevent injury.  If we “listen” to what our muscles say, or how we feel (see: exhaustion) we can perform the correct actions to keep us functioning at optimal capacity.  I can guarantee that professional athletes are mindful of what their bodies tell them, so why shouldn’t we be?

In conclusion, I encourage you all to think about the actions you do in a day.  Relish in those bites of turkey, or the time you spend with your loved ones.  Put down the cool ranch doritos if you’re “bored” hungry, and pay attention to your throbbing ankle after your third set of box jumps.  Your body will thank you.