How Mindfulness Helps Reactivity
Published on October 13th, 2015
Updated on September 28th, 2023
If you’ve paid attention at all to popular psychology in the past five years, you’ve likely heard the term “mindfulness” or perhaps you’ve heard someone say that they are practicing being “mindful.” In the last few days we’ve discussed anger, reactivity and resentment and how they can wreak havoc on our lives, emotional health and relationships. My hope is that this brief summary of mindfulness and the implications it holds for well-being will encourage you to try it for yourself.
Mindfulness has its origins in Eastern philosophy but over time, different cultures and spiritualties have adopted their own forms. Practicing mindfulness has become so pervasive because mindlessness is truly an international problem! Notice if you’ve ever experienced mindlessness in one of these ways:
- Driven a familiar route and come to your destination only to think, “I’m here already?”
- Showered and forgotten whether or not that stuff you put in your hair was the shampoo or the conditioner?
- Opened the refrigerator on autopilot with no idea what you intended to pull out?
We call these instances forgetful or absentminded, but really, it’s a case of mindlessness: an inability or failure to engage with the moment at hand. Instead we spend our time lost in past experiences or anticipating future events. We are forever pre-occupied. Mindfulness is applicable in a variety of scenarios and some of them we’ve already discussed! (See post on Intuitive Eating) When we are deeply aware we are better listeners, better drivers, more efficient workers, healthier parents, spouses and friends. Furthermore mindfulness practice helps persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety and worry.
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To introduce yourself to mindfulness practice begin by simply noticing your breath. There is a variety of mindfulness “apps” for your smart phone that will sound a meditation bell, but really you just need to set a timer for five minutes or so.
- Sit in a comfortable position with your spine as straight as possible (don’t stress too much about posture though)
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth (think deep inhales, long exhales)
- Focus on the rising and falling of your chest or belly, you may even place your hand on your heart or your belly to keep yourself focused
- Begin to tune into your breath
- Pick a phrase to keep you focused. It may have to do with your body sensations (i.e. say to yourself inhale, exhale…) or, it may have to do with the intention to quiet your mind (i.e. with each inhale say the word peace and with each exhale say the word be still.)
An exercise like this seems so simple and it is! It’s just breathing. It is also tremendously grounding. Imagine if you took time to connect with your breath for five minutes before an important presentation, conversation, or before you walked into your home after a long, hard day at work. Research supports that mindful practices support a calmer demeanor and more peaceful outlook.
When practicing mindfulness, stay patient. Being overly judgmental and expectant counteracts openness and awareness. I once heard Dr. Ronald D. Siegel author of “The Mindfulness Solution” (highly recommend) speak at a mindfulness conference. He likened the intention of mindfulness to the way we would train a high-energy puppy. When teaching a puppy to heel, it is expected he will pull this way and that, and have a generally hard time staying focused and in tune with your step. Our minds are the same way- our thoughts will pull us this way and that and have a generally hard time tuning into the breath. To carry the puppy analogy further, most dog owners don’t yank the puppy back in place and tell the puppy how bad he is. Instead, they gently tug at his collar and try again. Treat yourself in this same gentle way. Stay away from phrases like, “I’m so bad at this” or “This is so boring.” Instead, just try again.
Experts say it takes a little over a month to develop a new habit. I challenge you to try this breathing technique for just one month, twice a day. See what changes in your personal and professional life you notice!