By: Dr. Mac Hafele, licensed clinical psychologist & neuropsychologist, Employee Assistance Program at NGHS
If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or distracted, the last thing you want to do is sit quietly with your thoughts. But that’s exactly what mindfulness encourages you to do.
Focusing on the precise moment you’re in and turning inward doesn’t open the floodgates of emotion or stress, it actually does the exact opposite. It helps you to detach. Being fully aware and engaged in the present removes you from stress and worry surrounding past and/or future events. All that matters is you in this very moment.
Getting Started with Mindfulness
One of the easiest ways to get started with mindfulness is through deep and concentrated breathing. Having something to focus on– like your breath – helps to keep out distracting or stressful thoughts.
To get started with mindfulness-based breathing, simply find a quiet place that you can sit or lay down. If you’re at the office or another public place, you can use headphones to help tune out surrounding noise. While you can enjoy mindfulness-based breathing for any length of time, just doing it for a few minutes can make a big impact.
To get the most out of mindfulness-based breathing, it’s important that you start with a relaxed body. You may be carrying tightness or tension without even really noticing it. Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a great tool to gradually relieve this tension by tightening or squeezing each muscle group, then releasing it.
Steps to Mindful Breathing
- Begin with your face:
Tighten your muscles then relax them – feel your eyebrows droop.
- Move to your shoulders:
Shrug them up and then let them fall.
- As you progress from head to toe, focus on how your muscles feel when tensed and then relaxed.
- Move onto your arms and then your hands. Follow this same process, tensing and then fully relaxing each muscle group as you move to your stomach, legs and lastly, your feet.
- Once you your muscles are loose and relaxed, slowly take in a full breath.
- Notice how the air feels as it goes in through your nose and fills your lungs.
- Notice how your full lungs tighten your chest and push out your abdomen.
- Notice the sensations as you release your breath, feeling the air move out of your lungs and out of your nose.
- That was a mindful breath. Continue repeating this process several times.
While practicing mindfulness-based breathing, you may feel your thoughts begin to wonder, pulling you out of the moment. If you feel your focus shifting away from your breath and the present, recognize and acknowledge it, then release it. Think of those thoughts and stresses as passing clouds – let them float by without attaching to them.
If you’re having a hard time with thoughts and stresses continually rising up, try counting or saying a mantra or phrase to yourself. This will help to keep your mind occupied in the moment without becoming distracted or letting your mind wander off. An example of counting while breathing is the 4-7-8 breathing technique. This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 and exhaling for 8 seconds.
Start Your Mental Wellness Journey
Practicing mindfulness-based breathing is just one simple way you can support mental health and overall wellbeing. To ensure that everyone has the tools, support and care they need to thrive, NGHS offers several behavioral health resources. Start your mental wellness journey by visiting nghs.com/mentalhealth.