Guest Post by Kaia Roman of The Joy Plan
Dear Friends, we’re doing a 5-day #JoyChallenge this week here at Annmarie Skin Care. Each day, you’ll find a new challenge up on the blog. These practices are described in more detail in my new book The Joy Plan (coming July 11, pre-order here).
The Joy Plan describes a 30-day science experiment I conducted in the laboratory of my own life with the hopes of shedding my ingrained habits of stress and anxiety. I tried every recommendation in every self-help book I could get my hands on, and it was fascinating to see what worked and what didn’t.
Day 1: Mindfulness
Bring your awareness to the present moment, and away from your stressful thoughts.
I didn’t really even know what “mindfulness” was before, although I’d been hearing the term more and more. It turns out, it’s pretty simple: mindfulness is merely the act of bringing your awareness to the present moment—including your thoughts, feelings, and sensations—without judgment.
Although it may sound far too basic to be helpful, mindfulness has been shown to foster a myriad of positive health benefits, including reduced stress, improved immune function, increased happiness, and even slower aging.
One of the main reasons that mindfulness is so beneficial is that is can help us separate our thoughts, especially stressful thoughts, from reality. Unless it’s missing what it needs for survival, the body is rarely anxious without the input of the mind but stressful thoughts activate the amygdala, the brain’s danger sensor, and switch on the fight-or-flight response even when there’s no physical danger present.
Being able to separate our stressful thoughts and amygdala-based reactions from the less-dramatic reality of the present moment is a skill that can be mastered with practice.
Today, set a timer for five to fifteen minutes. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight and your eyes closed. You can place your hands on your lap or place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Bring your attention to your breath. As you inhale, slowly count to five, and as you exhale, slowly count to five again. Keep this up.
Your mind will probably be flooded with thoughts. That’s totally normal. Do your best to notice the thoughts without engaging in them. Try imagining each thought turning into a bubble and floating away. This is the basic practice of mindfulness meditation and it’s a healthy form of exercise for your brain.
You can also do a mini version of this practice at other times throughout your day. When you’re waiting in line, washing the dishes, or standing in the shower, notice your bodily sensations and your breath. Honing in on your five senses—sound, taste, touch, hearing, and, sight—is a great way to bring your awareness to the present moment.
To calm my mind, I find that nothing works better than shifting my attention to my body and the present moment. I am blessed to teach this important life skill to elementary school children. Ultimately, the practice of mindfulness can help us feel more empowered and in control of our experience of life.
When I’m able to create a micro-suspension in time where all that exists is the here and now, everything else fades away and I find a deep sense of peace. The challenge is finding a way to get there amidst the fast-paced events of my day and swirling thoughts in my head.
Joy is a habit that can be cultivated with practice and repetition. And it’s more fun to do it with friends! Check back tomorrow for Day 2 of the #JoyChallenge: Gratitude.