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Making a New Year’s resolution can bring about positive change in your life. That’s why each January, a full 40 percent of Americans resolve to better themselves in some way. But, research shows that nearly 80 percent of resolutions fail by the second week of February. Unless you first change your mind, don't expect your health or other goals to materialize, says Nicole Swain, LPC, NCC, ACS, ACT, a Senior Clinician in Behavioral Health & Cognitive Therapy at SMG. In the following Q&A, Ms. Swain explains why mindfulness, the practice of paying attention on purpose moment by moment with non-judgmental awareness, might be at the top of one’s New Year’s resolutions.
Why might one consider adding mindfulness as a New Year’s resolution?
Mindfulness is a wonderful practice to consider any time of year and especially the New Year. In the New Year we are likely to have many people around us who are supportive and encouraging of setting and following through on new goals. In addition, mindfulness in the New Year helps reset our mind from the idea of setting rigid resolutions to instead set an intention to begin to cultivate a new habit behavior that keep us in the present.
Who can benefit from mindfulness?
Everyone can benefit from mindfulness. There has been a good deal of research with different cohort groups, including children, adolescents, adults and the elderly who have demonstrated that daily mindfulness practice can have benefits on cognition, mood and overall health.
What are its benefits?
There are many benefits of mindfulness. Research has demonstrated that people who participate daily in a formal practice of mindfulness, in particular meditation practice, actually show changes in the left side of the brain correlated with both positive emotions and improved emotional regulation. Formal and information practices of mindfulness are also correlated with overall health benefits including improved sleep, increased ability to focus and concentrate, decrease blood pressure, decreased sensations of anxiety and improved pain management to name a few.
When should one practice mindfulness?
There have been numerous studies that demonstrate the correlation between a regular daily practice of mindfulness and meditation and decreased self-reported levels of stress. Mindfulness allows people to learn how to respond to situations and events that are stress-provoking rather than react. When people are focused on the present moment they tend to have much more adaptive responses to stress than when they are focused on the past or future.
What are some ways to practice mindfulness?
There are two ways to practice mindfulness: formal practice and informal practice. Formal practice of mindfulness simply means setting aside a specific time each day to sit or lay down and meditate. The newest research shows that 15 minutes of formal meditation practice most days a week has significant health benefits. Informal practice can be done any time of day and anywhere. Informal practices are usually just a few minutes and help bring the wandering mind back from the past or future back to the present moment and address any current emotions or physical sensations in the body in this moment that need care or attention.
How can I use mindfulness to bring about change in my life?
Mindfulness teaches us to recognize habitual patterns of thinking, emotional reactions and behaviors that interfere with optimal health and wellness. When we practice mindfulness, we begin to become aware of mind traps and when we increase our awareness we create space in the present moment to make a choice about how to proceed, therefore better-managing stress.
How can I employ mindfulness at work?
Because informal strategies of mindfulness can be used anywhere and at any time they are an excellent way to incorporate mindfulness at work. However, it also may be possible to integrate formal meditation practice. You may want to take your break time to find a space with minimal distractions and allows you to meditate for 15 minutes. You may also consider getting your colleagues in on the practice and start or end each meeting with a short formal guided meditation. Another idea is deep belly breathing. Start by sitting in a comfortable position, putting your hands on your abdomen and breathing. As you breathe in, try to make your hands rise with each inhalation and fall as you breathe out. With each breath, count from 1 to 10. Do this for two minutes and as you come to the end of this practice, acknowledge the choice of taking this time as an act of self-care. Bringing more oxygen into our bodies can help regulate blood flow, reducing stress and anxiety.