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An anxiety therapist discusses mindfulnessFrom time to time, I’ll be turning over my blog to other depression and anxiety therapists from the Your Therapy team, so they can share their own insights on mental- health issues. Today’s post, on the benefits of mindfulness during this busy season, is by Mana Gebreyohannes.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! And somehow, all this wonder seems to come with much stress and endless effort. The holiday season is upon us, and it’s a welcome time to spend with those closest and dearest to us—a time to reflect on the past year, and look forward to what’s ahead. Whether it’s family, faith, festivities, or food that you look forward to the most, there’s usually something this time of the year that invokes much joy. The holidays can also be a difficult time for many of us who are isolated or are away from loved ones. It’s during these most stressful and difficult times that I turn to a cherished quote and a life mantra from Aristotle: The energy of the mind is the essence of life.

Simply put, despite what is happening around us, whether frustrating, joyful, chaotic, or isolating, the state of our thoughts and mind determines our wellbeing at that moment. And especially during the holiday season, it gets much easier for our minds to be full, overwhelmed and wandering. Knowing the key role our thoughts play in our wellbeing, it’s vital that we take time to pay attention to what’s going on up there. This leads me to my favorite self-check question in times of overwhelm: In this moment, is my mind full or am I being mindful?

The image above tends to say it all, but what’s truly the difference? When our mind is full, it’s identified as a mental process that we have reached ineffective capacity. The mind can be overtaken by the regrets of yesterday, the tasks of today, and the hopes of tomorrow. In contrast, being mindful is the simple act of paying attention to the present moment without judgement. It’s just that simple. But in this world of multitasking, endless access and “more is more,” it can be a daunting venture. Nevertheless, mindfulness offers an opportunity not to stop what we intend to do, but to welcome us to be fully present in the current moment.

Mindfulness will bring awareness to your thoughts

Being mindful enables us to engage in all of our senses—touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surroundings at a particular moment. Aside from this busy time of year, we all have experienced moments where life has passed us by. It happens as we scramble to juggle many priorities, or turn to autopilot mode through our predictable schedules. This type of awareness that comes from being mindful welcomes us to notice our present moment fully, enabling us to maximize our enjoyment of our present experience.

An easy way to start this practice is during your next snack or meal. Try noticing your food using your five senses. How does it look? What shapes, colors, textures do you see? What aromas do you notice? How do your utensils or hands feel, as you make contact with your food? What temperature do you sense, and what flavors do you taste? What do you hear throughout this whole experience?

I’m certain that your mind will wander back to your to-do list or an urge to engage with your smartphone. That’s expected, and that’s why this is a nonjudgmental process of paying attention. Simply notice that your mind has wandered, and gently encourage your focus to return to the present moment. Being mindful can happen at any time, space or event in your life. I welcome you to try this practice in your everyday life whether you are sitting still, taking a walk, driving or shopping, washing the dishes, folding laundry, wrapping gifts or playing with the kids or pets.

Among the chaos of the holidays and beyond, try to remember that the state of your mind is important for your wellbeing. Take a moment—or many—to pay attention, without judgement, to your present moment, as a proactive way to increase your life’s enjoyment!

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