Last week I wrote about setting an intention for the New Year. Today I would like to share some ways to incorporate intentionality into your everyday life. Why? Because living intentionally helps manages the inevitable stress we all face on a daily basis. An emerging body of research is confirming that these practices are beneficial to your mental and physical well-being and wouldn’t we all like some of that?
Mindfulness is a buzz word these days, but what does it really mean? Being mindful is the practice of being fully present in the moment. You can do anything mindfully from brushing your teeth to eating an apple or stroking your pet. The trick is to be fully present, to notice and experience every little nuance related to the experience. For example if you are walking mindfully then you are not thinking about what happened at work today or what you will make for dinner. You are noticing how the ground feels under your feet, you are noticing the sound of the birds chattering in the trees, you are aware of the chill of the cool breeze across your face, and the sound of your own breath as it goes in and out. You are fully immersed in the “now”. Mindfulness takes practice. It is important to be very gentle with yourself as you learn to become more mindful or present, over time you will find that the chatter in your head is not so loud and that you are better able to turn it off when it starts to bother you.
Meditation sounds a lot harder than it is and it is a lot harder than it sounds because our minds create so much interference! Most of us imagine that we need to sit for long periods of time in super uncomfortable positions and doggedly focus on nothing….or something like that. The truth is, meditation is simply awareness. That’s it. You can reach a state of meditation by practicing yoga, tai chi, mindfulness, or mindfulness meditation. Download some guided meditations onto your phone or iPod for a quick start that you can practice anywhere and anytime. Learning to meditate is a journey that will lead to better physical health and feelings of well-being and and is quite possibly the best stress reduction tool available to mankind. Take a look at information from The Mayo Clinic for further information
3. Practicing Gratitude:
Even during our most challenging times we can all find something to be grateful for. The practice of focusing on gratitude is extremely beneficial as it allows us to set aside our self-defeating thoughts and change our mind’s focus. This doesn’t mean the challenge or difficulty goes away, but we feel better when we are focused on being grateful rather than angry, resentful, bitter, or sad. Gratitude can be practiced in many ways. Making a gratitude list can be helpful. Sometimes, if you are not feeling particularly grateful for anything, writing out the letters of the alphabet can provide a great starting place. A=animals, B=my best friend, C=card games with family……you get the idea? Making it a practice to list 3 things you are grateful for every morning upon waking, or every night when going to sleep, or when sitting down to eat dinner with your family. There are many ways to practice gratitude, find one that suits your lifestyle and personality – you won’t be sorry!
Keeping a journal is a way to expel your stream of consciousness onto paper and let it go. If you are feeling out-of-sorts it can be helpful to write about it, to vent, to express your frustration onto paper. This process usually leads to some sort of resolution. You will be surprised and happy find that your hurt feelings/anger/sadness etc morph into peace as you are able to let go. If your issue to so big that it feels like you are stuck, try ripping up the paper and throwing it (the problem) away, or burning it. There is no right or wrong way to journal, so put pen to paper and let it out.
5. Being in Nature:
Research abounds on the health benefits of being in nature. Just being in nature reduces anxiety and promotes feelings of peace and general well-being. If you add in movement (walking, hiking, running, playing) the benefits increase. Think you don’t have time? Get up from your couch or desk and go outside for for a few minutes. Eat lunch outside, turn your face to the sun – you won’t be sorry. The boost will not only make you feel better but also help you stay focused. Go for a walk in the local park, or just around the block. Notice your surroundings. Are the leaves changing color? are the clouds clouds puffy and white, low and wispy, or dark and looming? Is it hot or cold? How about the sounds? Can you hear birds twittering? Leaves crunching? Do you see or hear animals or insects? Being in nature takes us out of ourselves, clears our overactive brains, and brings relaxation and overall well-being. Best of all, it’s FREE and available anywhere. Even in the biggest and busiest cities you can find a natural oasis in which to spend some time rejuvenating.
6. Random Acts of Kindness:
This is one of my favorite ways to turn myself around if I am having a bad day. Basically, if you’re feeling crummy, then do something kind for someone else! How can that help you ask? Well, it’s twofold really. First it takes your mind off yourself which is a crucial and often very difficult step as our minds are very adept at spiraling downwards when we are feeling low. Then, when you practice a random act of kindness (giving a stranger a flower, buying coffee for the person behind you in line at Starbucks, leaving a little chocolate on your co-workers desk, leaving a post-it note with a genuine compliment in your child’s lunchbox….you get the idea), it will flood your system with endorphins and make you feel so much better. Try it. Positive results guaranteed!
7. Helping Others:
Research shows that those who help others reap a multitude of health and social benefits. Volunteer work is one way of helping others, but it doesn’t have to be that formal. Shoveling snow or raking leaves for your elderly neighbor, making soup for a sick friend, picking up trash at your local park, or watching the child of a single mother so she can have some free time will provide the same great benefits.