hat exactly does it mean to be mindful nowadays? In very simple terms, 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. What is the value of this practice, and how can you incorporate it into this pandemic-triggered new normal in which we find ourselves?
That’s the question Ellen, a junior at Mt. Lebanon High School, was asking her therapist here at Outreach. She felt overwhelmed with school work, extra-curricular activities on top of the stress from the pandemic. As Ellen moved through the fall, she felt the pressure building up from parents, friends and teachers; college applications were looming, and she was unable to focus. Her efforts to remain mindful were less and less effective because of her elevated stress.
Ellen’s therapist discussed her concerns with her, and they talked about the benefits of Mindful Gratitude. Her therapist reminded her of the reasons she should incorporate gratitude into her day; research links gratitude with a wide range of mental and physical benefits, including strengthening your immune system and improving sleep patterns, feeling optimistic and experiencing more joy and pleasure, being more helpful and generous. Grateful individuals feel less lonely and isolated. She was still struggling with how to develop this practice and how it could complement her mindfulness work she’d been developing throughout her high school years.
To start with, Ellen began observing the thank yous she said each day. Was it simply habitual, an afterthought? After all, we say “thanks” dozens of times a day: when someone holds a door open, compliments a new haircut or saves a seat in the lunchroom. It can become a reflex, an almost knee-jerk reaction to simple daily transactions. We mutter it, often without really acknowledging the person we’re thanking.
The practice encouraged her to think about how she was feeling when expressing thanks in an everyday way, and to do a quick scan of her body; was she already moving onto the next thing, or being present in that moment?
Ellen then chose one interaction each day, and stopped for a moment to be fully aware, naming what she actually felt grateful for before saying “Thank you.” Most people don’t always experience gratefulness naturally; it takes work, and it can be considered fluid, not fixed.
As Ellen incorporated this practice into her daily life, she gained focus and cultivated a “garden of gratitude,” discovering that gratefulness is truly about the small things.
She was more mindful and present in the moment, managing her time more efficiently and became less stressed. Her mindfulness practice regained its previous strength, and she was able to take control of her thoughts and feelings, which led to healthful, positive conduct and behavior:
She found a quiet place to practice and got comfortable.
She committed 10 minutes each morning to the practice.
Closing her eyes brought her attention to the present moment.
When her mind wandered, she gently brought it back.
She closed each mindfulness practice with a positive affirmation.
As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, we at Outreach encourage you to take a time out from the noise and the news and focus on gratitude!
Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours!