It feels like everywhere we turn today we are faced with the realities of trauma. Violence and unrest in our community, terrifying attacks throughout our country, and natural disasters affecting individuals all across the world fill our news programs, social media feeds, and too often, our minds. The problem is that in addition to trying to take in these tragedies outside of our own lives, we are also coping with the stress and trauma inside our lives.
When we get “mind-full,” of this stress, trauma, and negativity, we see and feel the impact on our lives. Sometimes it feels like racing thoughts and that there are too many things to try to think about and process. Sometimes it feels like it all is it too overwhelming and we find ourselves having trouble getting out of bed or enjoying the things we used to enjoy. Often, we even feel it in our bodies and find that our hearts seem to be beating faster or our legs feel heavier than they used to.
What I have found in my life, both as an individual and as someone in the mental health field, is that one of the best things we can do to address those “mind-full” moments is to be mindful. At its core, being mindful is about helping to bring our awareness, without judgement, to the present moment — away from the heaviness of the past or our worries about the future. The best way to learn how to be mindful is to practice. One of my favorite ways to practice is simply to focus on my breathing. I often do what I call “Five Breathing.” During this, I breathe in as I count to five, hold that breath for five counts, breathe out for five counts, and then repeat four more times. As simple as this sounds, I find that when I try to focus on my breath and nothing else, I am able to clear my head, even if it’s just for a few moments.
Another mindfulness activity that works for me is what’s called “grounding.” Grounding works for me because I can do it anywhere, anytime. To start, I try to get as comfortable as I can wherever I am. Then I try to notice where my body is making contact with something, like my legs on the chair or my feet on the ground. Then I try to just notice the sensation of that as closely as I can. I watch my breathing to try to keep it calm and relaxed as I move my attention throughout my body.
These exercises are simple and can be done in less than 5 minutes, but the science behind them is clear. Learning to go from “mind-full” to mindful can reduce our body’s response to stress, improve our focus, and even improve our overall health and well-being. If you want to learn more about the impact of stress on our health and what you can do to help make our community more alive and well, visit www.aliveandwellstl.com.
By Joe Yancey
Chair of the Community Advisory Board of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission
Executive Director of Places for People