Tips to improve mindfulness

Sometimes it feels like we’re all so busy that we don’t get a second to really consider what we’re doing and how it makes us feel. I’ll often reach the end of the week and barely be able to remember what I’ve done over the past 4 or 5 days, because I’ve basically been running on auto pilot. We’re all guilty of it, and being tuned into our phones 24/7 – from the moment we wake up to the second before we go to sleep – means we’re always on alert, waiting for the next message.

I feel like that’s something that creeps upon us, and I’ve reached the point several times where I’ve totally burned out because I’ve just taken on too much and not allocated any time for myself. And so although I used to snigger and people meditating and practicing mindfulness, like it was some sort of weakness – and, come on, we’re all guilty of it – I now realise that they’re the smart ones, because until you stop and listen to what your body wants and needs, you’re never going to be 100% effective in what you’re doing.

Over the past few months, I’ve really been trying to take time out for myself, and learn how to get into a headspace where I block out all the distractions of work and life and look inwards to what makes me happy. So I wanted to share some of those in this post, and talk about some of the lifestyle changes I’ve made that help me relax, de-stress and – more importantly – navigate day-to-day life with clarity and focus.

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Start as you mean to go on

It’s inevitable that the first thing you do in the morning is pick up your phone. We’re all guilty of it, especially since that’s what most of us rely on as an alarm to wake us up in the morning. But I’ve really been trying to go the first 30 minutes of the day without using my phone, just to centre myself and get prepared for the day ahead.

As a journalist, it’s kind of difficult for me to not be connected in some way, because I’m always on the hunt for stories and need to stay in the loop with what’s going on in the world. Hence, I like to make the most of my downtime first thing, and I found the Headspace app a great way of learning how to stop for a second and really distance myself from what’s going on around me, and my plans for the day.

At first, I was sceptical about how much an app could really help me achieve – especially since I was relying on an app to keep me off my phone. Makes no sense, right? But I found the tutorials helpful in just guiding me through how I should be thinking, different exercises to try, and really just getting my day off to the best possible start.

Lay off the caffeine

I’ve spoken about this before, but boosting my mood was a key factor in my decision to ditch the countless cups of coffee I’d drink every morning – and it’s worked so well. As with most things, the amount of coffee I drank every day seemed to slowly increase as weeks went by, to the point where I would literally have 4 or 5 cups before lunchtime. And while I thought that was giving me the energy I needed, in reality it was only a temporary high, before I’d dip into a lull in the afternoon, and be pretty much done for the day.

I also think caffeine is one of the worst causes of anxiety, and especially if you’re a person who drinks their coffee strong, it definitely affects your perception of things. Because remember, caffeine is, after all, a drug, and it does have a significant impact on the body; and subsequently the mind. So I do like to limit my coffee intake to a maximum of 2 cups over the course of the day – ideally just the 1 – and fuel myself with healthier alternatives that are more nourishing in the long term, rather than relying on a short term hit.

In reality, I think boredom also plays a key part in most of our coffee consumption, so I find getting up from whatever I’m doing and taking a 5 or 10 minute break does me the world of good

Turn off your headphones

I’m terrible for having my headphones switched on all the time, to the point where, even when I take them out, I often find myself not paying attention because I’m so used to being in that space. However, over the last couple of weeks I’ve made a conscious effort to leave the house without my headphones, or take them off when I walk around town, for example, and I find it makes me feel a lot calmer.

Again, I think being tuned in all the time is a catch 22, and headphones kind of epitomise that; we think listening to music or podcasts will help us to zone out, but being distanced from what’s going on around us actually makes day-to-day goings on more stressful. Now, I’ll listen to music while travelling, but turn it off as soon as I get to where I’m going – and I think it makes life much easier and calmer. Not only do you feel more in sync with what’s going on around you, but it’s also quite nice to hear different sounds to the usual couple of playlists.

On a side note, I’ve also started to leave my phone at home when I walk Toby, and that 30 minutes of having no distractions is so blissful – I think everyone should try it!

Enjoy your own company

This really is the objective of mindfulness, and learning to be comfortable with yourself isn’t easy at all. Think about it – we come home from work, play music, turn on the TV, check social media. All the things that constantly distract us from ourselves, our lives and our thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as guilty as anyone, but I do make an effort to stop, switch everything off, and enjoy the silence.

Initially it’s daunting, and you’ll find yourself confronting all kinds of thoughts and problems that you’ve been avoiding. But stick with it, and – without sounding totally hippie – there’s something nice about being up to speed with your life and finding a happy medium between understanding your problems and acknowledging your achievements.

I also found aromatherapy helps with this, and I often burn incense to create an atmosphere and almost a “safe space” to relax and take a minute to gather my thoughts. I also love Scentered’s collection of balms, which match their existing fragrances and can be applied to pulse points to help you wind down and relax. It’s all about finding a scent or method that works for you – and once you do, and make a couple of small lifestyle changes, you’ll notice a significant difference.

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