Counseling Center

April 29, 2020

Mindfulness for daily living

Posted by Nicole Montes, M.A., Doctoral Candidate, Psychology Intern, UWCC

It’s not my intention to be one more person shouting at you to use this global pandemic as an opportunity for self-improvement. The stress COVID-19 has caused many of us is real and valid and if you’re struggling you are not alone. That being said, this unprecedented time of social distancing can be an opportunity to turn inward, to slow down, and to check in with ourselves, especially if we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed. Mindfulness grounds us into the present moment in a way that often helps quiet our worries about the future and responsibility of juggling to full mental load.

One of the most common challenges I hear when it comes to practicing mindfulness is that people just don’t have the time. Trust me, as a fifth year doctoral student I get that, and I often tell students your meditation practice doesn’t have to be 20 minutes daily, it doesn’t even have to be 5 minutes daily. Taking one minute a day to pause, check in with yourself, notice how you feel, physically, mentally, emotionally, can be powerful.

What many people don’t realize is that principles of mindfulness can be incorporated into your life without actually adding any time to your day through adopting an informal mindfulness practice.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Choose an activity or task that you’re already doing daily. It can be as simple as going for a walk around the neighborhood, taking a shower, drinking a cup of coffee or eating a meal.
  2. Set an intention to do this task mindfully.
  3. What does that mean? When you engage in the task plug into your senses. Our senses ground us into the present moment. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • What do you see? What are the colors, shapes, textures of the scene in front of you? Notice all the small details in your view and notice how the scene shifts and changes over time.
    • What do you hear? What sounds do you hear immediately around you? What about sounds further off in the distance? Notice the volume of the sounds, the tempo, can you detect who or what is making the sound?
    • What do you feel in contact with your body? Maybe it’s simply your feet on the ground or your hips in a chair. But can you notice the texture of the ground under you? Feel the support of the cushion holding you up? Maybe you feel the air on your skin, or clothing as it makes contact with your body.
    • What do you smell? Is there a scent in the air? Can you notice the smell, breathe it in deeply. What notes can you detect?
    • What do you taste? If you’re eating or drinking something notice what it feels like in your mouth and imagine you could taste it as if you were tasting it for the very first time. Notice the subtleties of the favor. Does the taste change as you chew or swallow?

I’ve always enjoyed using cooking as a mindfulness exercise and I think it sets a nice example for plugging into the senses as so many of them are involved in the process of cooking. Here’s an example to get you started!

Notice the glistening of the olive oil as it shimmers in the hot pan. As you chop the onion, watch as the diced pieces fall from the side of the knife. Listen to the sound of the knife making contact with the cutting board, and feel the weight of the knife in your hand.

Listen to the sound of the onions making contact with the hot oil. Watch as the onions change in color as they cook. Take a deep breath over the hot pan can you smell the onions and garlic cooking? Can you sense the warm scented steam in the air as it flows in through your nostrils? When you finish cooking, give the food a taste. Notice the texture of it as it hits your tongue, how does it taste? Does it need additional seasoning?

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. These principles can be applied to literally any activity. In fact, if you have an activity you love that you feel fully present and in flow while you’re doing it, you’re probably already practicing mindfulness. Don’t be discouraged if you try this and thoughts come up or you get distracted. That’s normal; in fact it’s so normal it’s part of the process. When a thought arises, or your mind wanders into the future of the past, notice it, then redirect back to your sense. Do this over and over again. Mind wanders, what do I see, mind wanders, what do I hear? And over time, like strengthening a muscle, you will naturally grow in your mindful awareness as you move through your day.