The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the world as we know it quite drastically over the past year. As we struggle to adjust to this new normal, we grieve the loss of so many things. From lost jobs, cancelled vacations, and missed opportunities, we have all had something important taken away from us. While everyone’s mental health has been affected in one way or another, research suggests that young adults may be at a higher risk for developing anxiety and depression.
In addition to the day-to-day safety measures in place to limit the spread of coronavirus, social distancing has proved to be one of the most effective strategies we have. In the efforts of creating more distance between those around us, we must limit our activities to a bare minimum, and in most cases, cancel them altogether. In the effort to limit face-to-face interactions, we unfortunately must miss out on the things that bring us joy and fulfillment.
With this increased isolation, many young adults are having to increase their screen time to accomplish school work, interviews, work meetings, and so on. This, along with extra social media use can contribute significantly to developing both anxiety and depression. This is why we must incorporate new habits to introduce more positivity and gratitude into our lives. This is where mindfulness comes in.
Mindfulness is simply the act of becoming more aware and engaged with the present moment and deepening awareness of your internal experience including thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It allows you to bring an intense focus on the present moment without the need to interpret or judge.
Mindfulness can be practiced through deep breathing exercises, meditation, guided imagery, and other practices such as mindful eating or mindful walking. No matter the type of mindfulness you practice, the purpose is that you pay attention and truly engage with the experience.
After covering what mindfulness is, let’s take a look at what mindfulness is not. Some of the myths surround the topic of mindfulness includes:
Research has determined that exercising mindfulness can help manage general anxiety disorder by training your brain to be more present in the moment. Focusing on your experiences in the present moment naturally brings your mind away from thoughts of the past or worries about the future, training your brain to become more present-focused. As you connect with your experience, simply allow any thoughts to come and go at their own pace, like clouds floating by. Over time, this can create some distance from our thoughts and allow us to engage more fully in our lives without feeling like we’re controlled by our inner dialogue.
Mindfulness goes hand-in-hand with optimism and positive thinking. Through practice, you’re able to reframe your mindset and begin to see the world around you in a new light. For example, practicing mindfulness helps you shift your thinking from seeing less “problems” and more “challenges”, “opportunities”, or “life-lessons”. As you connect with the emotions you have on a daily basis, you’re able to give more compassion to your experiences. This can introduce feelings of happiness, gratitude, and optimism.
There is a form of mindfulness, known as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), that combines elements of mindfulness with cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) in the clinical setting. According to the American Psychological Association, MBCT has the potential to prevent or treat depression by helping to increase feelings of self-compassion and limit you from suppressing any raw or negative emotions.
While mindfulness is not something everyone has consciously exercised, it’s something anyone can practice. Here are some simple ways to cultivate mindfulness in your daily life.
Practicing mindfulness starts by connecting your mind to your body. As you’re sitting in silence, stretching, or walking, bring your attention to where your emotions or stress is coming up in your body. In doing so, you can bring compassionate awareness to these areas, releasing yourself from the tension. It’s important to connect with all of your senses in this present moment, including what you’re currently seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, or smelling.
One popular technique to connect your mind to your body is through breathing exercises. These exercises help to calm and regulate the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, a system in charge of restoring your body to a state of relaxation.
Infusing mindfulness into your daily activities can help create a habit out of the practice. It’s so easy to go about your day on auto-pilot. Instead, try to allocate a time or an activity that you’ll devote your full attention to. No matter if it’s your first day or your 300th day of practicing mindfulness, continue to exercise the skill with both curiosity and undivided attention. If you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the present moment, or use your breath or a mantra as an anchor. The more you practice, the easier it becomes.
Above all else, practicing mindfulness will allow you to savour the important moments of your life. In bringing more focus to your current state of being, you can open yourself up to move joy, peace, and gratitude. These moments often pass by so quickly which is why learning to be present can provide you with a more profound and enriched sense of being.
While it’s only human to hold regret for your past or fear for your future, there is nothing more important than living for the present. In dealing with the distress, hardships, loss, and more, the risk of developing anxiety and depression is higher than ever before, especially in young adults. Fortunately, there are simple techniques that we can all use on a daily basis to help respond to our emotions and improve our well-being. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to help people manage their stress, anxiety and depression more skillfully, increase feelings of happiness and gratitude, and cultivate more compassion for themselves and others. There is truly no better moment to start than now.
Written by Alexandra Tan, BSW, MSW, RSW