10 ways to be more mindful in your everyday life
I have had an insanely busy few months. I don’t say this to brag. Or to compete with you. I detest the glorification of busy. I detest being busy. It causes me to feel overwhelmed and stressed. I normally lead a fairly slow life. Well, as slow as life can be when one has 4 kids, a husband, 2 dogs and a business to run! But it just so happens I have two children with birthdays this month, plus a whole lot of school and extra curricular activities for my kids that all seemed to fall around the same time, plus I went and launched a website in the middle of all of that. What can I say, I don’t like to do things in halves! But I do like to practice mindfulness, and this tends to fall by the wayside when I’m busy.
And why am I telling you about this? Because like I said, during these busy times, I become stressed. I don’t cope well with that stress. I become irritable and cranky and am generally not a very nice person to be around. And that’s because I’m all up in my head. Being busy causes me to live almost permanently in my head. I’m constantly thinking about the next thing on my list and what I need to cross off, do, remember, sign, pay for, order, cook, get to etc. I don’t have a chance to enjoy the moment. Any moment, because I’m too busy thinking about the next one.
Does that sound familiar to you? I’m guessing it does. I’ve heard it many times before. Particularly from parents. They say, but I have to be thinking about the next moment. If I didn’t multitask I’d never get anything done. I’m just planning ahead. But there’s a difference between sitting down and planning out your day, and then using that plan to guide your day in a purposeful way; and constantly jumping forward in your mind and racing through tasks just to get to the next one.
Mindfulness for parents
And this is where mindfulness comes in. If you’re unfamiliar with mindfulness you can read this blog post for more information. But to put it as simply as possible, mindfulness is the act of being fully and purposefully present in a moment. When we are mindful we are aware of what is happening both within us and around us. We notice thoughts, physical sensations, feelings, sights, sounds, smells and tastes. We do not pass judgment, and we do not try to change them. We simply notice them.
Now, when I am able to incorporate small moments of mindfulness into my day, to get out of my head just for a small moment here and there, I feel less stressed. I feel less hurried and pressured. When I am able to connect with the present moment and just be, I am able to feel calmer. Because when I am truly present in the moment, there is no ‘next thing’. When I am mindful, there is only that moment. There is only now. The moment I am in. That moment is not stressful. And so I am not stressed.
When they hear about mindfulness, most people have an image in their mind of what it looks like. You know it too – that typical, cross legged meditation pose. Thumb and index fingers pressed together, arms resting on legs, eyes closed, chanting ommm repeatedly. And listen, if that’s how you’d like to practice mindfulness, be my guest. There’s nothing wrong with that. At all. But most parents tell me they don’t have time for that. They don’t have time to sit down and meditate. And I get it. I’m a parent too. It’s hard to prioritise things like that. It’s hard to get a moment away from the toddler. Time to close your eyes. Uninterrupted me time? Ha! What’s that, right?!
But what if I told you, mindfulness doesn’t have to look like that? That sometimes it doesn’t even come close to looking like that? Yes, really. You’ll notice I spoke about ‘moments’ of mindfulness earlier. And I literally mean moments. Pretty much anything in your day can be done mindfully. Just as anything can be done mindlessly. Frequent, small moments of mindful connection during your day to day activities is still mindfulness. You’ll still benefit from it. And the best bit? It’s totally do-able. Yes, even for you.
So here are 10 ways to practice mindfulness during your everyday activities:
Any time you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed or stressed during the day, stop. Take a deep breath in through your nose, filling your belly with air. Then slowly exhale through your mouth, pushing all the air out again. Really focus on the feeling of your breath going in and out. Repeat this 5 times. And then continue on your way. Deep, mindful breathing is a fantastic way to reset your nervous system and calm the stress response. This will leave you thinking clearer and feeling calmer.
2. Eat Mindfully.
If you’re anything like me, you are always in a hurry while you eat. You’re slotting your meals into the small spaces between tasks. Eating on the go. Making the kids lunch and then shoving the leftovers into your mouth as you run out the door because you’re out of time. Snacking mindlessly while you watch tv or work on the computer. Drinking a coffee while you drive your kids to their after school activities. Next time you eat, try to be more mindful. Notice the texture of the food in your mouth. Pay attention to the taste and the smell. Notice the warmth of your coffee as it slides down your throat. Really inhale the smell of that soup before you bring it to your mouth. Take your time chewing and swallowing and really savour the moment.
3. Do your housework mindfully.
Anything can be done mindfully. Yes, even housework. Be mindful while you wash the dishes – notice the feeling of the warm water in your hands, the texture of the soap suds, the smell of the dishwashing liquid. Really feel the weight of those plates in your hand. Notice the sound the plate makes as you place it on the sink or dish rack. When you cook dinner, notice the smell of the food, watch as the meat changes colour, pay attention to the sizzle of the oil in the pan, bring the sauce up to your lips and notice how it tastes. Anything can be an exercise in mindfulness if we do it with intention.
4. Be mindful while you wait.
If you’re stuck in traffic, or standing in line at the post office, or waiting for a cashier at the supermarket, these are excellent chances to practice mindfulness. It doesn’t have to be quiet to practice mindfulness, because mindfulness is about noticing everything. Count how many different noises you can hear. Focus on your breathing while you’re standing in line. Do a quick ‘body scan’ and notice if you’re holding any tension anywhere in your body. Or notice your thoughts. Maybe you’re thinking that you’ll be standing in line all day. Notice that thought and let it pass by without judgement.
5. Use prompts.
If it’s hard for you to remember your mindfulness practice, try using prompts. Whenever you pass by a certain object in your house, do some mindful breathing. It could be a certain room, a particular vase, a picture on the wall. It doesn’t matter what it is. But whenever you see your prompt or your cue, take a few minutes to do a quick mindfulness exercise.
6. Mindful listening.
Do you listen to music during your day? While you clean up? In your car? While you cook? Choose an aspect of the song – the lyrics, the bass, the guitar, whatever you want. Now for the duration of the song, try and focus only on that part. This is a great exercise for increasing your focus and concentration, and is a lot harder than it sounds!
7. Be mindful while you walk.
Next time you need to take a walk somewhere (even just out to the letterbox), do it mindfully. Notice the sensation of your feet on the ground, the way your balance shifts from side to side as you step. Notice the sounds, smells and sights around you.
8. Be mindful on social media.
Be intentional about the amount of time you’ll spend scrolling Facebook or Instagram. Notice any feelings or thoughts that come up as you look at other people’s feeds and try not to judge those thoughts and feelings. Just allow them to be. Pay attention to your urge to return to social media through the day, and how it makes you feel.
9. Take a mindful shower.
Showering is something that we usually do every day. So do it mindfully. Notice the sensation of the warm water on your body. Notice the texture of your loofah or wash cloth, pay attention to the smell of your body wash, focus on the pressure of your hands on your head as you shampoo your hair.
10. Play mindfully.
Next time your kids ask you to play with them, get down on the floor. Put away your phone and really focus on the play. Don’t think about what you’re cooking for dinner, or the housework you have to do. Focus on their little faces, the way they stick out their tongue while they build with the blocks. Listen as they explain the rules of the game. Be present and engaged with the game. And your child.
I hope this list has been helpful for you. For more mindfulness inspiration for you and your child, head on over to my Instagram page and check out the hashtag #mindfullittlemoments.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.