A Month of Mindfulness is a 30-day program Aetna created to help people experience how mindfulness reduces stress and boosts health.
Those are two goals I can definitely get behind as 2015, as I mentioned before, was one of the most stressful years in my life: health, work, finances, friendships, you name it, there was probably something panic attack-inducing happening last year.
I wanted 2016 to be different—while I don’t believe in the letdown of making New Year’s resolutions, I always follow the same guiding principle: To be a better version of myself than I was the year before. And I believe my tendency to spiral and shut down in the face of stress was keeping me from that goal.
So Aetna’s Month of Mindfulness challenge couldn’t have come at a better time. Mindfulness—the idea of being completely present and in the moment without judgement—always seemed like a huge concept, one that was too big and time-consuming to get my arms around. But the first tip seemed easy enough to manage: a simple breathing exercise:
Tip #1: Start on the path to mindfulness by being aware of your emotions and thoughts.
Today, take a few moments to pause and be with yourself as you are. Start with paying attention to a few breaths as they move in and out of your body. Notice thoughts and feelings without self-judgment or criticism. And keep returning your attention to your breathing. This practice can help you have less anxiety and feel happier now and in the long run.
I set a timer for five minutes (using Google, because once I’m on my phone, it’s Oh, while I’m here, I should probably check my email, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and that article I didn’t finish reading last night…), closed my eyes, and took deep and measured breaths in and out.
Anytime an intruding thought flashed by—What picture should I use for this post? What time is that phone call again? You’re so behind already, and the year JUST started. I need to Google “how to get rid of laugh lines”—I pictured each breath out blowing it away gently, ushering it to wait on the sidelines of my consciousness until my five minutes were up.
When the timer’s soft chirping let me know those five minutes were indeed over, I felt a calmness that lingered for longer than I expected. Those thoughts and self-criticisms didn’t come rushing back all at once, clamoring for my attention; in fact, nothing felt particularly pressing, a sensation I rarely even feel when I’m on vacation.
Taking the time to breathe can’t be overstated enough, because I imagine so few of us busy ladies actually heed that advice. As a chronic asthmatic, I may be even more aware of breathing’s potential to calm us down. When I’m anxious, my breathing grows more shallow, making it harder to take in big, calming breaths of air. The more anxious I get, the more rapid my breathing, and I can’t relax (or breathe) until I take a hit from my inhaler.
Living with extreme stress is just like having an asthma attack every day… but without an inhaler. Yet by taking the time to focus on breathing and creating a mental space where it’s harder to let negativity in, this breathing exercise showed me that I can control my reactions to stress. I just need to give myself a few moments each day to access that space. And when it comes to my health and well-being, I can’t afford not to take a breather.
Interested in mindfulness? Visit aetnamindfulness.com to participate and learn more.
This post was sponsored by Aetna, who believes health is about the body and the mind. Stress can affect emotional and physical health, and reducing stress can boost wellbeing. As part of their #Mindful30 challenge, the views and opinions expressed in my posts on the topic of mindfulness are my own, not Aetna’s. To learn more about mindfulness, visit aetnamindfulness.com.