By Dr. Andrea Gottlieb

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you’re logged into your umpteenth Zoom call of the day and you start zoning out. After a few moments of having your mind wander, you realize you weren’t paying attention and have no idea what people are talking about. So you actively return your focus back to the meeting. That conscious act of harnessing and retraining your attention back to the present moment is actually a very important skill. You’re practicing mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, including acknowledging your own feelings and thoughts without judgement. Mindfulness is a practice. It is something we must do intentionally. It helps you tune in more deeply to what is going on around you and inside your mind and body.

What are its benefits?

Mindfulness is a skill that helps you experience life as it is, rather than letting your days pass you by without being present. Practicing mindfulness also helps you handle life’s ups and downs more effectively. When you know what you are feeling and thinking, and recognize the cause of those feelings, you are more likely to handle the hard moments effectively.

People who are new to practicing mindfulness may try it at first in hopes that it will help them avoid unpleasant feelings. But in fact, mindfulness actually encourages just the opposite. Instead, we should be mindful of all that we experience—pleasant or not—and acknowledge them without judgement. While mindfulness and acceptance may lead to a benefit of reduced stress for some, this is not the goal of using this practice. Instead, the aim is to become more present and aware of whatever you are faced with in any moment.

How to Practice Mindfulness

Like any activity, the more you practice something, the better you get at it. If you’re new to practicing mindfulness, start small. Pick up an object and notice everything you can about it. When your mind starts to wander, as it eventually will, return your attention back to the task of focusing on the single item. You can gradually extend the amount of time you practice mindfulness.

This is just the beginning of understanding how to use mindfulness effectively in your life. Consider reading more about mindfulness if you want to dig deeper into the subject.

Mindfulness and COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced uncertainty and isolation into our everyday lives. This will inevitably impact our mental state. Exercising mindfulness is not intended to help you escape these experiences and their related thoughts and emotions. Rather, mindfulness is all about giving ourselves permission to feel those feelings, by observing and labeling them as they are.

Perhaps one of the best silver linings that we can appreciate about the pandemic is it has upset our “normal” and given us an opportunity to re-write our routines. An opportunity to re-write your “normal”, plus the increased mental strain brought on by the pandemic, makes this the perfect time to learn the mental health skill of mindfulness. Consider incorporating mindfulness into your daily life, such as re-focusing your mind and staying present during that interminable Zoom call!