“Mindfulness” seems to be all the buzz, but what is it exactly? How do I use it? Does practicing it automatically make me a hipster?

The act of mindfulness is literally making an effort to focus on only one thing.

Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention. Especially as healthcare professionals, we are used to (and cannot perform well without) doing a multitude of things at once: counselling patients, answering the phones, consulting with our co-workers, managing our teams, documenting our interactions, the list never ends.

What about outside of work? Is living that way all the time, in every situation really healthy for us long-term? Definitely not. The act of mindfulness is literally making an effort to focus on only one thing. You read me right, monotasking. “Oh, that’s so simple it’s stupid.”

At face value perhaps, but the data points to real-life benefits that this practice can afford your life, even when you’re not actively practicing mindfulness, if you commit to making this a habit in your regular repertoire. Proof? The American Psychological Association cites mindfulness as “a hopeful strategy for alleviating depression, anxiety, and pain”.

It doesn’t stop there, this mental movement can moderate the brain’s amygdala, that classic “fight or flight” response centre, based on research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. Practicing mindfulness will help you not to excessively stress out over not-so-life-threatening events like choosing where to eat dinner.

METHODS TO MINDFULNESS

Ok, so we’ve set the record straight that mindfulness has evidence-based benefits that we can use and desperately need. How can we become more “mindful”?

MEDITATION

You don’t have to spend hours a day to get the benefit of this activity, you can start with just 10 minutes a day. Get a feel for the exercise and build from there. Research from a 2014 study at Carnegie Mellon found three 25-minute meditation sessions could alleviate stress. New to the art of meditation? There are plenty of free apps that will guide you through the process. My top four would be Headspace, Calm, Whil, and Insight. In my opinion, Headspace is the best place to start.

DEEP RHYTHMIC BREATHING

This might seem super simple, but don’t underestimate this amazing tool. You can even do it amidst the crazy hustle and bustle at work, if you feel your stress levels climbing too high. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. There are many methods out there, but the basic concept is:

  • Inhale deeply and slowly in through your nose, with the purpose and mindset of completely filling your lungs with air.
  • Pause for a moment holding your breath.
  • Exhale deeply and slowly through your mouth, with the purpose and mindset of emptying all the air from your lungs.
  • If you’re able to (i.e. not in the midst of a stressful scenario), count the breaths to give focus to what you are doing, making this your only objective (monotasking). Count 1 with the inhale, 2 with the exhale, 3 with the inhale, up to a count of 10, then repeat as needed.

GRATITUDE

Focusing on what you are thankful for is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to kickstart your positivity. Start your day off by physically writing down all that you are thankful for in your life. For added benefit do this with a loved one? You’ll both benefit and they’ll likely point out blessings you have that you may have overlooked.

EXERCISE: YOGA AND TAI CHI ESPECIALLY

You don’t have to be a bodybuilder to get the benefits from exercise. You can even start with 10-minute intervals if you’re super crunched for time. Keep it going and build from there. Research from the University of California has shown that 42 minutes of vigorous activity over a 3-day period can reduce stress on your telomeres – that’s right, preventing aging at the cellular level.

SLEEP

According to the Dalai Lama sleep is the best meditation. Having some trouble hitting the hay? The root cause may be in your sleep hygiene – yes, there is such a thing. Sleep medications aren’t always the answer, and that’s coming from a pharmacist. There is a whole host of tips and tricks for this all-too-common issue like avoiding coffee before bed, going to bed at the same time every night, and ensuring your bedroom is quiet and dark. Hopefully you now can see the importance that mindfulness can play in your mental mojo and how you can improve yours.