When my cousin was murdered, all I could think about was him sitting in the front seat of his hijacked car before the gunshots.
I couldn’t see his face. I could only see the outline of his neck and shoulders and the mop of his hair.
I was never there, but I put myself in that car for months and months.
It’s called rumination and most of us with anxiety and depression struggle with it. It’s the plague of the same thoughts repeating themselves again and again.
When those thoughts are dark ones, it can become gasoline for depression.
According to the American Psychological Association, one of the reasons for rumination is that people subconsciously believe they’ll gain insight into what’s happened by thinking about it again and again.
I’ll tell you one thing for sure, it rarely works.
In the battle against depression and anxiety, mindfulness is the ultimate weapon. It’s one of the only ways to control rumination which makes it a very powerful tool.
Mindfulness is the awareness of the present moment without judgement. It’s the art of being here, now. It’s the practice of unleashing your curiosity about the world around you.
Learning HOW to be mindful, however, is much easier said than done.
Here are some tips to get you going:
Set a timer for every few hours and, when it goes off, take 60 seconds to look around and absorb what’s happening around you.
You can do it indoors but it’s a bit easier if you’re outside. Look at the sky. Notice the clouds moving or the stars twinkling. Feel the air moving against your skin. Pay attention to the birds or the crickets.
Let yourself get lost in the world around you for one full minute. If you start getting distracted by judgements or ruminating thoughts, gently pull yourself back to a minute details – the stem of a flower, the wings on an insect or the scent in the air.
If you notice yourself judging anything, acknowledge it and release it.
As you get better at being mindful, practice doing it more often rather than for longer periods of time.
Initially, learning how to switch from ruminating thoughts to mindfulness is more important than being able to sustain mindfulness for a long period of time. Soon you’ll be mindful for longer and longer.
Focus on your breathing
Whenever it enters your mind, slow your breathing and concentrate on taking five seconds to breathe in and five seconds to breathe out.
Imagine your breath reaching all of your cells. As your breathe moves through you, imagine the oxygen energizing each cell and lighting it up.
Soon your body will be enveloped in thousands of tiny white lights filled with positive energy.
This short breath timing exercise video will help…
Start A Practice of Noticing
This tip is from a Harvard psychologist named Dr. Ellen Langer who is known as the “Mother of Mindfulness.” She’s been studying the topic for forty years (sorry to age you, Ellen 😉 She basically advocates what I call the practice of noticing.
In her podcast interview with Leading Learning, Dr. Langer gives listeners some interesting exercises to jump start mindfulness in a less structured way.
One is to notice three new things every time you walk out the door. The second is to notice 3-5 new things about someone you’re living with every time you see them.
Try not to add judgement to the equation like I’ve said earlier if you’re noticing things that irritate you 😉 Accept and release all thoughts.
Use a Person or a Pet to Help You Focus
One way to get out of your own head and into the present moment is to focus on a living, breathing being right in front of you.
When I’m overly distracted, I focus on teaching my 13 year-old Cocker Spaniel a new trick. He’s old and stubborn so getting him to tune in takes all of my mental energy. I focus on his body language so intently that I can get lost in our games.
Many times we just end up playing fetch and I focus on his happy little face and crazy haircut.
You can do the same thing with a person – especially a child. Start paying attention to your conversation and really tune into their energy. Some of the most fun distractions usually involve imaginary tea parties and peek-a-boo.
Sink Into Good Moments
This is one of my favourite things to do and I started it when my life was filled with trauma I couldn’t control. The only things I COULD control were my actions and my perception of what was happening around me.
There was so much chaos that moments of peace were usually out of reach. That’s why when these moments did find me I started really embracing them. It was usually late at night when everyone was asleep.
I would stop and notice the quiet around me. I would notice that everyone I loved was sleeping soundly around me and the air was still.
I would think to myself, “In this moment, everything is perfect” and I would let that feeling of calm wash over me. I would sink deeply into that good moment.
Eventually I was able to do it during the day when people were awake! Haha! That’s a bit tougher.
Hopefully these tips will help you get started. You can never be too mindful and, if you come across any other useful tips, send them my way! I’m always looking for new ways to sink into the present moment.