Everywhere you turn today, people are discussing mindfulness and the value of being “mindful.” But what exactly is mindfulness and how do you practice it? Simply speaking, mindfulness is being aware of your thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment. This brings into focus the here and now, rather than worrying about the past or the future. With all the benefits to mindfulness, it’s no surprise it’s become a popular concept.
Kara, a junior at Mt. Lebanon High School, was feeling overwhelmed with her school work and her extracurricular activities. She was taking several difficult classes that required a lot of time and effort outside of school. Some of her grades weren’t as good as she was used to. She was getting pressure from parents, friends and teachers to start planning her future. One day, the pressure got to her and she began to cry at school. She told her mother later that day, “I was just so anxious and worried that I couldn’t concentrate.” She and her mother decided it was time to seek some support from Outreach Teen & Family Services.
Kara’s counselor taught how focusing on the present could help stop the cycle of anxiety and worry that was overwhelming her. She learned there are five steps in practicing mindfulness; following these steps calmed her mind and lowered her anxiety and worry.
1) Find a quiet place to practice, and get comfortable. It should be a place where you can feel safe and secure. Many people prefer to use their bedroom, but any place that is quiet and safe will do. Sit or lie down;,whatever you feel most comfortable doing.
2) Decide how much time you will spend. You don’t need a lot of time to benefit from mindfulness—even five minutes can be helpful. Start off with short increments and build up as you choose. Use a timer so you don’t have to to check the time.
3) Close your eyes, and bring your attention to the present moment. Take a deep breath—in through your nose, hold it a moment—then release it through your mouth. Notice the sensations you experience as you breathe; how the air feels going into your nose, what your chest feels like as it rises and falls, the sounds you make as you exhale.
4) When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present. Your mind will wander; that’s OK. Just gently bring it back to your awareness of the present. The more you practice bringing your wandering mind back to the here and now, the longer you will be able to stay in the present moment.
5) Close your mindfulness practice with a positive affirmation. When your time is finished, slowly open your eyes and state a positive phrase such as “I am calm and in control of my emotions.”
Kara incorporated mindfulness into her days, and after several weeks found herself to be much calmer and less overwhelmed. She was able to focus more on school, and her grades improved as a result.
Many counselors at Outreach incorporate mindfulness into their clinical practice. We are here to help. 412-561-5405, www.outreachteen.org.
*Outreach Teen & Family Services is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer counseling and educational programs to children, teens and parents that are affordable, accessible and discreet; all within a welcoming and supportive environment. www.outreachteen.org