GUEST POST By Travis Jeffers, LCMHCA, MDiv
If you’re like me, it feels as if there are always more things on the to-do list than can ever get done. I zip around from place to place, but someone I’m always worrying about the next thing, instead of actually experiencing the world in front of me.
We can spend our whole life stuck in our head reacting to what’s happening, without actually experiencing the present moment as it unfolds. Amidst this chaos, practicing mindfulness becomes an invaluable tool for nurturing our mental health and finding peace in the present moment.
Mindfulness, with its roots in ancient wisdom, has gained widespread recognition for its profound impact on anxiety and overall well-being.
By consciously directing our attention to the present and cultivating a non-judgmental awareness, we can unlock the power to calm our minds and navigate the challenges that anxiety presents.
In this blog post, I’m going to share seven mindfulness practices that can alleviate anxiety and bring about a sense of inner peace in our everyday lives. Whether you're new to mindfulness or have dabbled in its benefits before, these practices offer practical and accessible ways to cultivate mindfulness and enhance your mental well-being.
7 Daily Mindfulness Practices
If I’m honest, driving takes very little concentration or awareness. I can eat in the car while driving, I can become engrossed in podcasts while driving, I can sing at the top of my lungs while driving…I’ve probably done all 3 at the same time while driving if I’m being honest,. My mind can seemingly focus on everything except what’s happening all around me in the present moment.
Some people I’ve talked to are very hesitant to practice mindfulness while driving because they’re afraid that it means they will become more distracted while driving, but I think it’s just the opposite; mindful driving is tuning in to what’s going on around and inside you. Tuning in, instead of tuning out.
Practicing mindfulness while driving involves becoming conscious and aware of what’s happening in you and around you, while maintaining a sense of curiosity and non-judgment.
Here are three areas to notice:
1. Notice what’s happening in your body.
Notice and slow down your breath, feel the sensation of your hands on the steering wheel, roll down the window and feel the breeze on your face and in your hair.
2. Notice what’s happening in your mind.
Notice where your mind is wandering or what thoughts keep coming up and gently and nonjudgmentally bring yourself back to the present moment around you. Notice what feelings arise as you drive in traffic: are you frustrated, or angry? Can you notice those feelings with compassion and allow them to pass through you as you come back to your center?
3. Notice what you're sensing outside of yourself.
What’s happening on the road, but also, what scenery have you never noticed before? How is the scenery changing as the seasons change? What sounds are you hearing around you as you drive?
Seattle band Death Cab For Cutie’s song Passenger Seat begins with a great description of mindful awareness while in the car:
I roll the window down
And then begin to breathe in
The darkest country road
And the strong scent of evergreen
You can hear an awareness of all these different bodily senses being described - becoming aware of the physical sensation of breath and grounding and releasing into it, becoming aware visually of the country road and taking it in, and finally becoming aware of the scent of evergreen.
2. Cooking Mindfully
For many people, especially those who work and have kids, it can be a struggle to get home and put food on the table for dinner every evening. Meal times can be frantic, stressful, and honestly overwhelming.
Attempting to bring a sense of mindfulness into a task like cooking can take some time to develop, but once we are able to, cooking at the end of a long day can be a moment to breathe, experience calm, and become aware of and appreciate the present moment as it unfolds around us.
The first step to mindful cooking is to take a few deep breaths and just become aware of what you are bringing with you into the moment.
Do you have any inner parts that are currently asking for attention?
For my clients with incredibly stressful careers, I always ask them to check in with their anxious, perfectionistic, stressed, or achiever parts. What are they telling you? You can even speak back to them and say something like, “I hear you, and I understand why you are still feeling anxious from work. If you don’t mind, are you willing to step back for a little while and allow me to cook this meal right now? I’m not trying to get rid of you, and I know you’re working hard, and I know you’re trying to help me…but I will be better able to listen to you later if I can have a few minutes to rest after a long day”.
Usually our inner parts will step back for a little while then and allow us to be present in a different way. It is important however, to honor your commitment to yourself and check back in with those inner parts at a later time.
If your inner parts are willing, allow yourself to bring your attention to the present moment in front of you with a sense of compassion, curiosity, and maybe even joy if you can cultivate it.
What sensations can you notice and experience while you cook?
The crunch of the celery on the cutting board…
The hiss of the butter in the pan…
The taste of the different ingredients or of the sauces as you sample them…
The heat from the stove or when you open the oven on your face or your arms…
If you notice your mind starting to take over at any point and you start worrying about how the dish will turn out, etc, just take a deep breath. Express a sense of compassion for yourself if possible, and allow yourself to turn back to the present moment, and an awareness of all of the physical sensations of cooking.
3. Cleaning Mindfully
Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (which has a heavy emphasis on mindfulness) has a great description of mindful cleaning that she adapted from Thich Nhat Hanh:
Divide your work into stages: straightening things and putting away books, scrubbing the toilet, scrubbing the bathroom, sweeping the floors, and dusting. Allow a good length of time for each task. For example, while placing a book on the shelf, look at the book; be aware of what book it is; know that you are in the process of placing it on the shelf; and know that you intend to put it in that specific place. Know that your hand reaches for the book and picks it up. Avoid any abrupt or harsh movement. Maintain awareness of the breath, especially when your thoughts wander.
From DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, 2015.
4. Washing Dishes Mindfully
In her book One Thousand Gifts, Christian writer Ann Voskamp decides to try to make a list of 1,000 things she is thankful for. This practice of opening herself up to the gift and joy and sensation of the present moment is, to me, a form of mindfulness, although I don’t think Voskamp ever uses that word explicitly.
In her beautiful excerpt about washing the dishes, you can get a glimpse of her awareness and attunement to the present moment unfolding all around her:
April sun pools into a dishwater sink, liquid daylight on hands. The water is hot. I wash dishes. On my arms, just below the hiked sleeves, suds leave delicate water marks. Suds glisten. And over the soaking pots, the soap bubbles stack. This fragile tension arched in spheres of slick elastic sheets.
Light impinges on slippery film.
And I only notice because I’m looking for this and it’s the rays falling, reflecting off the outer surface of a bubble…off the rim of bubble’s inner skin…and where they meet, this interference of light, iridescence on the bubble’s arch, violet, magenta, blue-green, yellow-gold. Like the glimmer on raven wing, the angles, the hues, the brilliant fluid, light on the waves.
I touch wonder and fragility quivers…and bulges. Merges. Melds. Ripens full round, time shimmering clear.
Voskamp, p. 62.
When we slow down, allow ourselves to settle our inner chatter, and awaken to experiencing reality as it unfolds around us, even in the most mundane tasks we can get glimpses of beauty and wonder. Voskamp writes on mindfulness from her Christian tradition stating, “God is in the details; God is in the moment. God is in all that blurs by in a life - even hurts in a life” (Voskamp, p.54).
5. Mindful Bathing/Showering
I’m sure you can see the pattern at this point, that all of these “normal everyday” activities that we frequently do absentmindedly and with very little attention or awareness are wonderful places to begin to develop a sense of awareness of the present moment and mindfulness.
Mindful baths or showers are also wonderful mindfulness activities. The key is to take your time and slow down, and bring your awareness to the physical sensations of the warm water and soap on your skin.
Psychotherapist Peter Levine writes about the importance of survivors of trauma to connect with body. Often, trauma survivors will retreat into their head, becoming hyper-rational, all while their physical bodies become almost shut off from them. The first part of healing often times can be about allowing themselves to reconnect with their own bodies.
In Levine’s 2008 book Healing Trauma he recommends using a detachable pulsating showerhead, and focusing the warm water on different body parts in order to become awakened to the sensations that the body can feel, and to reconnect with the body that has been disowned for lack of a better word. He recommends a simple affirmation like “this is the palm of my hand; I feel the palm of my hand. It belongs to me; it’s part of my body” (Levine, p.40).
It may seem silly to us on some level, but reconnecting ourselves to our body is healing for all of us. It may be that strong emotions or memories arise out of this practice, and you can just take note of them and experience them, allowing them to come to you and pass through you. Later, you can share those emotions and memories with your mental health professional.
6. Mindful Tea/Coffee
Slowly drinking and savoring a warm beverage like coffee or tea gives us a host of ways to open us up to the present moment and can awaken all of our senses if we let it:
The feeling of the warm beverage on your tongue and in your mouth, and as it goes down your throat…
The warmth in your hands as you hold onto the cup...
The smell of the tea leaves or coffee beans…
The sounds of the street or the birds just outside the window…
But even before we consume the coffee or tea, there is a whole host of rituals to be performed with mindfulness in the preparation of the the beverages. Asian tea ceremonies are a classic example:
It’s interesting to me, however, that contemporary coffee culture also has its own ritual to it, with people going to great lengths to describe the best way to grind the beans, measure the grinds, heat the water, pour the water, etc. Each of these steps can be performed with intention and awareness if we can relax our inner parts enough to attune ourselves to the moment in front of us and the task at hand:
7. Mindful Eating
It’s embarrassing to admit how often during my “lunch breaks” at the office I eat my lunch while still answering emails and taking phone calls. Most of us eat so absent mindedly, and are so disconnected from our body and ourselves, that we may not even realize whether we are hungry or not.
Some of us find ourselves eating a lot because while we are eating our minds are on our worries and concerns and fears and stresses, and so we have no awareness of when our bodies are satisfied. Some of us eat very little for the same reason - we are so concerned with other issues in our lives that we aren’t able to hear our own body sending us signals that we need more nourishment.
Eating mindfully is an attempt to slow us down enough to be aware of what our body is telling us about the food we eat, to focus on the sensation and joy and pleasure of food, and to bring into our awareness a sense of gratitude at the true gift that food is.
Additionally, mindful eating allows us to connect with those around us at the dinner table, and to be truly in each other’s presence, instead of on our own phones, or, in our own heads. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s classic mindfulness book Peace is Every Step describes mindful eating in several different beautiful entries. Here’s a particularly lovely section:
After breathing and smiling, we look down at the food in a way that allows the food to become real. This food reveals our connection with the earth. Each bite contains the life of the sun and the earth. The extent to which our food reveals itself depends on us. We can see and taste the whole universe in a piece of bread! Contemplating our food for a few seconds before eating, and eating in mindfulness, can bring us much happiness.
Having the opportunity to sit with our family and friends and enjoy wonderful food is something precious, something not everyone has. Many people in the world are hungry. When I hold a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I know that I am fortunate, and I feel compassion for all those who have no food to eat and are without friends or family. This is a very deep practice.
Hanh, p. 24
By incorporating these seven mindfulness practices into our daily routines, we can gradually alleviate anxiety, foster resilience, and nurture our overall well-being.
Remember, mindfulness is not a quick one-time fix or hack, but a lifelong practice of cultivating awareness and acceptance of the present moment as it unfolds. As you continue to embrace mindfulness as a way of life, you'll find that its benefits ripple through every aspect of your being, positively impacting your mental health and enhancing your overall quality of life.
Are you a man dominated by anger, criticism, or anxiety? Do your relationships suffer because of them? Do you secretly hate yourself and think there's something wrong with you? I've been there. I get it. I help men find peace with themselves and with others.
Travis Jeffords | LCMHCA, MDiv
Get more essential mental health advice at Travis’ website, www.travisjeffords.com