How ‘mindfulness’ can improve mental focus and help you feel better emotionally and physically

Quick tips for how to practice mindfulness

When people are told to relax, they might be advised to practice mindfulness, which a Maryland therapist describes as a way to detoxify the brain.

“Mindfulness is about being in control of your mind rather than letting your mind control you,” said Erin VanLuven, a licensed clinical social worker with Kaiser Permanente.

Mindfulness can be achieved by spending time focusing attention on any one single thing, such as the sound of your breath, brushing your teeth or how something tastes.

“You can close your eyes and feel the sun on your skin for 30 seconds. You can focus on anything that you can see, taste, hear, smell or feel,” VanLuven said. “You just pick one thing that you want to focus on.”

And if thoughts wander, “You just bring your mind back to it over and over again for however long you’ve decided to try it,” she said.

People are constantly bombarded by stimulus from social media, computers, email or even taking a drive, and VanLuven said practicing mindfulness gives the brain a break.

“There’s just so much coming into our brains all day long that our brains physically cannot process everything that it’s receiving,” VanLuven said. “What slowing down and getting out into nature, doing these things, can do for your brain is — it can literally allow your brain to detox.”

Lowering stress using mindfulness can trigger numbers of beneficial physiological responses.

“It’s going to allow you to feel better physically and emotionally, and it’s also going to allow you to be more focused in times when it’s really important to focus on something,” VanLuven said.

VanLuven recommends practicing and developing the skill of mindfulness by doing it for incrementally longer periods of time, from say two or three minutes to 10 and then 90.

“Building mastery is really important,” VanLuven said.

And practice healthy selfishness.

“Make sure that this is time that’s just for you and you’re not going to have other people or other things intruding on that time,” VanLuven advised. “Decrease interruptions during the time that you’re trying to build mastery in your self-care and your wellness practices.”

Don’t give up and switch it up, she recommends.

“Mindfulness can be anything, it doesn’t have to be just meditation,” VanLuven said. “Sometimes going for a run or a bike ride and that physical movement can be a mindfulness practice.”

If after building the practice of mindfulness into your life you’re still feeling overly stressed, struggling with sleep or feeling depressed or hopeless, VanLuven implores you to get help.

“Please, don’t stop there. Reach out to a health care provider to speak to a professional to get the help that you need.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers free resources.

Mental health and mindfulness apps from Kaiser Permanente are available on its website.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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