It feels like we are being bombarded with a sea of bad news of what has happened in the world, and dire predictions for the future. Within seconds of scrolling through social media or a news site, our mind can jump to conclusions that seem pretty bleak. The result is an increase in anxiety, possible depression, and feelings of giving up. Long term, this is bad for our mental health. It’s like the effect of junk food on the body; before long, we simply feel terrible.
Luckily, there’s a way we can counteract the effects of this downward spiral. We can add daily moments of mindfulness.
Adding these moments can have huge benefits on your mental health. They’re like a quick little boost of mental energy and renewal.
The next time anything feels overwhelming – be it your kids, spouse, work, a global pandemic, grocery shopping, or in-laws – try one of these exercises to bring you to the present.
Pick a song that always brings you joy. Put your headphones in (to block out any other noise), close your eyes, and just listen. Feel the rhythm in your bones. Do nothing else but listen to this happy song for 3 minutes. Try to hear all the layers of beats, instruments, harmonies. Imagine the artist singing directly to you. Hear the lyrics like they are a letter from your best friend. Indulge yourself in completely loving that song.
Then, when it’s over, open your eyes, take a deep breath, and go back to helping your son with his math homework.
If you can’t think of a song off the top of your head, try one of my go-to joyful songs:
- "Wonderful Life (Mi Oh My)" by Matoma
- "Can’t Stop the Feeling" by Justin Timberlake
- "Stand By You" by Rachel Platten
- "You Make My Dreams" by Hall & Oates
This is a very common mindfulness exercise, and often is like a warm up for longer meditation sessions.
- You can do this either sitting or standing. First, slow down your breathing to about 10 seconds per breath. An easy way to do this is to count to 5 for each breath in, and 5 for each breath out
- For 3 breaths, pay attention to how your feet feel. Wiggle your toes, plant your feet firmly into the ground, or maybe roll your ankles a little bit. Think only about your feet while you breathe deeply in and out.
- For the next 3 breaths, think about your calves. Do they want to be stretched or flexed? Can you feel how elastic your muscles are? Feel grateful for the potential energy your calves are holding for you to use whenever you need it.
- For the next 3 breaths, draw your attention to your thighs and glutes. If sitting, what does the material you are sitting on feel like to this area of your body? If standing, feel the strength of your legs holding up the rest of you. Be proud of your strong base.
- For the next 3 breaths, be aware of your torso. Maybe put your hand on your belly as it rises and falls with your breaths. Take a second to be really grateful for this area of your body as it keeps many of your essential, life-giving organs safe and warm.
- For the next 3 breaths, think of your arms and shoulders. If you feel tension there, go ahead and release it with some shoulder rolls or shaking your arms a little bit. Stretch out your fingers. Pull your shoulders back so your chest is forward, and notice how strong you feel in that position.
- For the last 3 breaths, pay attention to your head and your neck. Notice how your skin feels where your hair is touching it. How does your shirt feel on your neck? Stretch your facial muscles into some happy expressions.
End this exercise by giving yourself a pat on the back or a fist pump in the air. Don't you feel so much better now?
This exercise is an awesome one to do when you are feeling overwhelmed and can’t step away from the situation (example: waiting in line at the pharmacy or sitting on a conference call with people who don’t know how to use technology). Wherever you are, for 3 minutes, in your head list things you see that you are grateful for and WHY you are grateful for them.
Here are some example phrases I would do just looking around my home office.
I am grateful for window blinds because it makes me so happy to open them in the morning and have the sunlight flood the room.
I am grateful for garbage cans because it keeps my desk garbage free and uncluttered.
I am grateful for Pandora.com because my “The Piano Guys” radio station keeps me focused
I am grateful for multi-colored pens because my written thoughts are easier to review with the color organization
I am grateful for my planner because at a glance I can see where I’ve been and where I’m going, leading to a feeling of accomplishment and hope for a bright future.
Great job! Now you have more mental capacity to deal with Jerry and his frozen webcam.
This one is really simple. Just go through the 5 senses and notice 5 things for each.
- What are 5 things you can see?
- What are 5 things you can hear?
- What are 5 things you can smell?
- What are 5 things you are touching?
- What are 5 things you can taste?
Use your imagination and see what sensations you can conjure up if you aren't able to distinctly smell or taste 5 things right now. The point is to slow your mind down to focus on what you feel inside.
There are lots of great resources for meditation. Apps like Calm or Headspace have a bank of guided meditations that range in length and topic. One place that has a lot of short guided meditations is Headspace’s YouTube channel. If you are intimidated with the practice of meditation, they do a great job of easing you into it.
After 3 minutes of deep breathing and a break from your thoughts, most things seem much more doable.
Mindfulness is all about mental awareness of your current experience. If you’re feeling overwhelmed at all, it is very easy to slip into thinking about the past or the future and have a swirl of negative emotions come up. Our brains are problem-solving machines, and if there is an unsolved problem it will keep on working on it in the background, making you feel anxious and stressed out.
Slowing down and engaging with the present can help your brain realize that you aren’t in danger right now. You are okay. You are breathing. In this moment, you are exactly where you need to be. Moments of mindfulness do not remove the circumstance you are in, but they increase your mental ability to handle what is before you with confidence and a feeling of hope.
In 3 minutes, you can have a totally different outlook. You can switch from being overwhelmed and stressed out about the future to joyful and optimistic in the present.
Comment below with your experience trying out these 3-minute exercises, or to add your go-to ways to stay present!