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Mental Health Prevention II: Mindfulness

Last week I wrote about mental health prevention. The rule of the 3 “Cs” is a guiding principle in caring for the biological aspect of mental health. This week I will talk about a popular concept that you are probably familiar with – mindfulness.


What is NOT mindfulness?


There are many definitions of this term. Steering away from redundant debates, I claim that no scientific field can “appropriate” it as a term. It is just a word, and its dictionary meaning – “conscious assimilation, understanding” – is completely sufficient. 


By association, when they hear “mindfulness”, many people immediately think of yoga, meditation, spiritual practices, and teachings. This is because a large part of these systems involves meditative practices, and some of the meditative practices inevitably address conscious observation of the processes occurring in the mind. But it is by no means necessary to meditate to practice mindfulness.


Mindfulness – what IS it and why is it important?


Mindfulness, in its simplest form, is the conscious perception of the information from the environment that comes through your senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. As you read this text, your attention is probably focused on the screen and the meaning of the words in front of you. You receive information about color, brightness, contrast, and everything else your eyes perceive at the moment. However, if you look through the window for a moment and notice that the leaves of the trees are rustling, you also receive information that there is wind outside. In your entire visual field, in all its 360 degrees, there is a lot of information. This information helps you orient yourself in space. Do you consciously perceive all this information? Probably not.


Surely, you’ve experienced walking down the street, passing by an acquaintance, and not recognizing them until they greet you with a “Hello!” Why? Because at that moment, your mind is occupied with some idea, and you’re not consciously registering the incoming visual information. If I’ve managed to engage your mind with this text, for example, you probably no longer perceive how comfortable the chair you’re sitting on is. What is the sensation from the seat, from the backrest? Now you’re aware.


Why is this a valuable skill and what is its connection to mental health? Mindfulness helps us connect with the present moment. Our senses “ground” us. They don’t allow us to dwell in the past or build anxious scenarios about the future. They are here and now, in the present moment. It is precisely our ability to focus on the present moment that makes us resilient to stress.


How to practice mindfulness in your daily life?


As I already mentioned, it is not necessary to sign up for a yoga class. Every small activity of daily life has the potential to become a mindfulness exercise, as long as you turn to your senses. My favorite exercise is mindful dishwashing – why? Because it’s something I do every day, unwillingly, and practicing mindfulness this way makes washing dishes beneficial to me.

In the five minutes it takes me to do this, my senses work tirelessly – my eyes perceive the kitchen counter, the dishes, the faucet, the light from the lamp, the shadows of the people moving behind me, the stove, the drying rack, and so on. Each of these items has a color, shape, and texture, which I also notice. My ears hear the flowing water, the hum of the refrigerator, the water running in the pipes, the TV from the next room, my husband’s conversation with my daughter, passing cars on the street, the cries of the neighbor’s two-year-old twins, and so forth. The skin of my hands perceives the warmth of the water, the force of the stream, the weight of the pan, the roughness of the sponge. My nose detects the scent of the detergent, and the taste of the recently finished meal still lingers in my mouth.

In these five minutes, I am in the present moment. As my attention jumps through the senses, not a single worry about tomorrow manages to sneak in and darken my mood. If by chance it does, I’ll put my hands under the stream to reinforce the feeling of the present moment and bring my attention back to my hands. And you thought dishwashing was boring, didn’t you?


From a new habit to lifestyle


Of course, mindful dishwashing, folding laundry, sweeping, cooking, or whatever else you decide to do mindfully in your daily life, will not guarantee good mental health on its own. Just like a few sets of 20 squats a day won’t guarantee good physical condition. But it’s always better to do those few sets than not to do them at all – then you’re one step closer to your goal. And when mindfulness becomes a way of life, just like movement, the odds are in your favor.


You can see more about me and the cognitive behavioral approach .

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