by Dr. Jenalyn VanSumeren
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present or “grounded” in the moment. It helps you be aware of your surroundings and what you are doing, but not be overly reactive or overwhelmed about what is happening around you. Being mindful slows down your mind and allows your body to be aware of your experiences, including your thoughts, emotions, and environment. It can help you become centered and able to respond to a triggering situation or person meaningfully and thoughtfully as opposed to responding impulsively, which can lead to unintended consequences. Every person can be mindful, but it is a skill set that must be practiced for it to become more readily available. This ability also needs to be practiced when someone is not triggered or dysregulated, so it can be applied easily when they are stressed or upset. The old saying that “practice makes perfect” is applicable to the practice of mindfulness because the mind and body will develop a “muscle memory” of what to do when a person or situation becomes overwhelming, which is beneficial when a person is too upset or stressed to think.
There are various ways you can be mindful, but one exercise involves using your senses. You first sit in a comfortable, relaxing position and then breathe at your regular pace. This allows your mind to clear and your body to slow down its heart rate and breathing enough to be present. The next step is to start engaging your senses and focus on how they are being activated at the moment. Being aware of what you are hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling, and smelling allows you to be aware of the here and now. If there is a distraction while you are being mindful, just allow the distraction to be there and bring your awareness back to the present moment or, better yet, take whatever sensation the distraction is helping you engage with and bring it back to the exercise!