Why Add Mindfulness to Your Self-Care Routine?
“Mindfulness is a form of self-care that just means being present in the moment,” says Clinical Social Worker Erica Reed who specializes in self-care practices. “It means having a heightened sense of awareness of what you’re thinking and experiencing in your body.”
For some people, self-care may conjure visions of laying in a hammock on the beach, getting a massage or indulging in a spa treatment — expensive, sometimes time-consuming, getaways.
Reed’s view of self-care can be instantaneous, easy and free. She approaches self-care through the lens of mindfulness, which she says can be accomplished anytime, under any circumstances — all that’s required is a willingness to pay attention.
Mindful of the Research
Research shows that mindfulness can support emotional and mental health. One 2019 study, published in the journal Education Research International, showed that medical students who took part in an eight-week mindfulness course experienced reduced anxiety, less negative thought patterns and improved resiliency to stress.
Most of her clients, Reed explains, struggle with self-care because they’re so busy trying to take care of other people. Mindfulness allows people to stop and listen to what their body needs in the present moment. Mindfulness also lets people confront unpleasant feelings or thoughts in order to release them, which can benefit someone’s physical, emotional and mental health.
“Sometimes a person is experiencing heightened stress and they’re so uncomfortable they want to sleep or stay busy to avoid it,” Reed says. “But you can’t run from something forever — eventually it’s going to bite you, and it’s going to hurt. Mindfulness allows you to sit with it and be uncomfortable, with the understanding that you’re going to release it and move on.”
Because our emotions influence our physical health, Reed says improved emotional health also means improved physical health, too.
“If we’re stressed and we’re feeling depressed and anxious, we try to make ourselves better because we don’t have other coping mechanisms. We might sleep or binge eat. But if we’re practicing self-care we’re not so inclined to do those things,” Reed says.
Practice Makes Perfect
Paying attention to our thoughts and bodies may sound simple, but Reed says that it can be hard for clients who aren’t used to it, at least in the beginning.
“Mindfulness requires you to be comfortable feeling uncomfortable,” she says. “We’re constantly pressured by our family systems and society at large to believe that if you’re holding still and not busy, you must be doing something wrong. But our bodies need that rest. Mindfulness allows you to feel uncomfortable with your thoughts and your feelings, and then let them go.
Try This Breathing Exercise in Bed or Your Car
Reed encourages her clients to practice often.
For example, taking two minutes to focus on your breathing before exiting the car to walk into your office is one of her favorite strategies.
You can also practice breathing exercises as part of your nighttime routine before bed or after you wake up in the morning. Another small mindfulness practice: during almost any activity, take stock of your five senses — sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.
“Someone who likes to run, they can be mindful of their muscles tensing and flexing, of hearing their feet pound on the pavement, feeling their breath whoosh in and out and seeing the scenery when it passes,” Reed says.
The idea is to focus your mind on the moment. Calm in your body and emotions will follow.
Like diet and exercise, quality sleep is essential for optimal well-being and performance. Because everyone’s sleep needs are different, Sleep Number 360® smart beds, with SleepIQ® technology inside, sense your movements and automatically adjust firmness, comfort and support to keep you both sleeping comfortably. Find your Sleep Number® setting for your best possible night’s sleep.