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Is Your Mind Full? Mindfulness May Be the Answer
Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
We often hear the word “mindfulness,” but do we really know what it means? Mindfulness is paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. Often, we are so focused on completing our daily tasks and to-do lists that we lose our connection with the present moment and miss out on what is right in front of us and how we are feeling in that moment.
Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur. Practicing mindfulness can help you become fully engaged in activities and create a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. Mindfulness has been found to be a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness and can be a powerful tool to help enhance our lives.
Mindfulness is a shift in our approach to how we face life. When we learn to shut down the distracting noise of our racing thoughts, we can learn to be fully aware and present in the moment. We do not let the past or future creep into this moment. It also is important to let go of judgment about what is happening in the present moment. By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find they are less likely to get caught up in worries about the future or regrets over the past, are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem and are better able to form deep connections with others.
In order to successfully practice mindfulness, we have to retrain our minds. Although many of us were told that multitasking is a desirable skill, it does not appear to always be true. Although our minds are able to adapt to numerous stimuli at once, that is not always the best way to stay focused and accomplish tasks. Taking one task at a time can be more efficient because there are fewer chances for mistakes and distractions. Being clearly focused on what we are experiencing is the best way to get the best results.
There are many different ways you can practice mindfulness throughout your day. As you are doing ordinary tasks of everyday living, allow yourself the chance to just do one task at a time. Do not keep your mind crammed with all your other ideas and thoughts. To keep out distracting thoughts, narrate in your mind what you are doing. If you are folding laundry, notice the smell of the clothes, the colors and how nice they look folded.
As you learn to practice mindfulness, start with slowing your breathing and opening your awareness. One easy way is to find a comfortable posture, spine upright, hands held comfortably on your lap or on your knees. Lightly close your eyes or keep them open, looking down in a relaxed gaze. As you breath in and out, be aware of the air moving in your body. Feel the breath ebb and flow, like waves in the ocean. Attention may wander from the breath. Just acknowledge where you went and gently bring your attention back to your breath. Ask yourself what brings you to the present moment.
When you have a meal, how often is it an experience to savor? Consider a meal without cell phones, TVs or any other electronic devices. Leave those devices in another room so you can shift your ability to be present. Now, actually notice who is there with you. Look them in the eyes when you speak and wait for answers. Slow down. Make this a social opportunity. Exchange conversations. Listen to their stories of the day. Share your thoughts and feelings with each other, which builds trust and caring in a family.
When you drive, have you ever left work and suddenly realized you were home? This is a common experience of being disconnected with your experience. Maybe you will make it home safely in this state of mind or maybe not. Warnings abound about distracted driving; it is not just cell phones that distract us. Of course, put them away when driving. But liminate other distractions, too. Notice your surroundings as you drive. Listen to the rain on the windshield. Feel the motion of the car. Use this as an opportunity to clear your mind.
While doing a job, being distracted can be a safety hazard. A worker with heavy machinery needs clear focus to keep safe. A manager reviewing a spreadsheet cannot do the best job when there are too many interruptions or distractions. If you consider turning off the phone or TV to focus your attention, learn to turn off all unnecessary thoughts, as well. Mindfulness is being aware of the environment you are in and creating a space for better concentration. It is both internal and external.
A body scan can be a way to take inventory of ourselves without judgment or critical thoughts. A body scan is not a medical test; it is an inventory we do of our own bodies. Allow your body to relax (deep breathing or taking three conscious breaths can help you relax). Lying down or being fully supported in a chair will improve relaxation. Slowly, and with purpose, scan your body, noticing any tension or pain. These are indicators of concern as we store our emotions in our physical selves.
Another useful tool is the ACE technique. It is a three-minute mindfulness practice that will increase awareness and redirect you to the most important aspects of yourself and your attention. ACE is an acronym for awareness, collecting and expanding. Allow one minute for each part of this exercise. You are experiencing awareness of where you are in the present moment and collecting ways you are experiencing it through all your senses. Expanding is about opening up your ability to put this experience into perspective in your world. There are many apps available with mindfulness techniques, as well.
Do you often review your day, check items you completed or missed, quickly grab a bite and collapse in an easy chair? Maybe you have a routine as you go home to change out of your work clothes and even take a shower. Begin the wind-down as you travel home.
Notice your body. Are you relaxed? Rushing? Tense? How about congratulating yourself on what you accomplished and putting the “to-do” list out of your mind? When you arrive home, take time to look at the place as if it was your first time there. Take five to 10 minutes to be still, if you can. If you live with others, look them in the eye and say hello. If you live alone, feel the peace and quiet.
Practicing mindfulness can deepen our appreciation for the people and things in our lives. Take time to write five things for which you’re grateful at least three times a week. Allow time for reflection each day. Our lives have become overly active, creating added stress. Take time to be still. Soothe yourself with a warm bath, essential oils or a break from electronics. Slow down to savor a meal by chewing slowly and noticing the smell, taste, texture and colors on your plate.
Spending 20 to 30 minutes a day practicing mindfulness will shift your focus and improve your life. You have many choices in where you can implement these techniques in your life. Mindfulness can bring with it desirable changes in your sense of well-being, capacity to work with difficult feelings and the ability to enjoy life.
Mindfulness is a widely accepted technique used by many clinicians. You can contact the Employee Assistance Program for further information and support with this technique. EAP coaching is an excellent opportunity to learn these useful mindfulness techniques, practice them and make them helpful—professionally and personally.
Schedule time for yourself to get EAP coaching and get started. The EAP is available to all postal employees and their eligible family members. The EAP can help with resources and referrals, too. Schedule your appointment today by calling (800) 327-4968 (TTY: (877) 492-7341).