If you’ve been feeling more stressed than usual, you’re not alone. A recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that one-third of adults find stress to be completely overwhelming most days, and three-quarters have experienced health impacts due to stress in the prior month. This is a troubling trend when you consider that chronic stress can seriously impact brain function, impairing memory, killing brain cells, and even causing permanent structural changes.
Running your own business is stressful. Caring for your family and other loved ones is stressful. Inflationary pressures and a looming recession are stressful. But when you think about strategies for managing and reducing all of this stress, do mindfulness, gratitude and appreciation enter the equation? There’s growing evidence they should.
A review of more than 200 studies of mindfulness among healthy people found it was especially effective for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness also delivers benefits in the business world, including boosting working memory, improving worker focus, allowing for greater cognitive flexibility, and improving relationship satisfaction.
As we get closer to 2023, it’s time to consider how mindfulness, and its close cousin gratitude, can fit into your daily routine.
What is Mindfulness?
In the simplest terms, mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment. The key to mindfulness is slowing down and leaning in to noticing what you’re feeling or experiencing without judgment.
To put it in everyday context, imagine two individuals sitting down to eat dinner. One parks in front of the TV with a plate in their lap, a fork in one hand and their phone in the other so they can breeze through TikTok while they eat on autopilot. The other individual sits down at a table to eat. There’s a knife and fork, a napkin, and a fresh glass of water. There’s quiet music playing in the background. They eat at a leisurely pace, taking the time to chew and savor each bite.
Who is more likely to end the meal feeling satiated? The person in front of the TV has so many distractions around them that they aren’t paying attention to much about the experience. In contrast, the person at the table is eating mindfully. They’re taking the time to contemplate the complexity of flavors and appreciate the effort that went into preparing the meal. They are also far more likely to take note when their brain sends fullness cues.
Slowing down and paying attention in the moment can come into play across a multitude of mindfulness activities for adults — from taking a shower to walking the dog to interacting with another person. Instead of letting your mind wander and be distracted by your to-do list or something that bothered you earlier, you commit to staying present in how you’re feeling, what you’re seeing, smelling, and hearing, and even how you’re breathing.
The 7 Pillars of Mindfulness
Jon Kabat-Zin is a professor emeritus of medicine and founder of MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction). In his work, Kabat-Zin outlines seven pillars of mindfulness that you can use as guideposts for achieving balance in your own life and work.
Our brains have a time-and-energy-saving hack built in that allows us to make judgements automatically. Here’s the rub: your choices get influenced by your snap judgements in ways you may not realize. The non-judging pillar of mindfulness encourages us to step back and be an impartial observer, recognizing judgements so we can more carefully consider them before taking action.
It’s difficult to live in the moment when you’re constantly ruminating on past events and anticipating future ones. This pillar of mindfulness involves accepting that everything unfolds in its own time and giving yourself space so that you can accept the here and now for what it is.
3. Beginner’s Mind
There’s no room for “been there, done that” in mindfulness. This pillar is rooted in the notion that every moment is unique and brings with it new possibilities. It frees us to remain open to, and curious about, what comes next, instead of crossing our arms and closing our minds based on what we think we know is going to happen.
The trust pillar of mindfulness makes it okay to make mistakes. It’s rooted in having faith that your intuition and values will always guide you down the path you’re meant to be on.
This pillar is about being at peace with who you are right now, in this moment. It encourages you to accept what’s happening currently, and reflect on it in real-time, without trying to change anything. This doesn’t mean you can’t make changes in the future, but you do need to be content with sitting quietly with yourself in each moment.
This pillar of mindfulness is centered around accepting things as they are. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to like them, but it does mean clearing away your own biases and embracing the mantra “it is what it is.”
7. Letting Go
If your busy mind likes to play and replay scenarios that have already occurred and force you to relive those emotions, you might find this mindfulness pillar a little more challenging. Essentially, it’s centered around freeing your mind from rumination and worry so you can focus on the present.
The Connection Between Mindfulness, Gratitude and Appreciation
Gratitude and appreciation are integral components of mindfulness activities for adults. Practicing acceptance, committing to being in each moment, and letting events unfold at their own pace all clear the way for you to move from impatiently wanting what’s next to having gratitude for what is, and faith that good things will happen in the future.
There’s lots of evidence that gratitude and appreciation serve us well. When we express gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin — hormones that make us feel happier. Robert A. Emmons, a leading expert on the science of gratitude, says it can also lower blood pressure, improve immune function, reduce the lifetime risk for depression and anxiety, and even help us sleep better.
Benefits of Mindfulness For Practitioners
A growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness training is effective in reducing indicators of burnout, depression, anxiety, and stress among healthcare professionals. It also improves indicators of well-being, vigor, empathy, and stress resilience. The benefits of mindfulness activities for adults don’t just extend to your personal well-being, they can also positively impact your practice.
- Boost productivity – Practicing mindfulness helps you learn how to focus your attention and block out distracting thoughts. There’s evidence that mindfulness improves personal performance and is associated with fewer cognitive failures, like forgetting and distractedness.
- Create stronger connections – Mindfulness trains you to pay attention to external and internal stimuli in an accepting and open manner, which improves empathy and social relationships.
- Preserve energy and increase engagement – Employees who interact directly with customers or clients have reported that practicing mindfulness results in significantly less emotional exhaustion and greater job satisfaction than those who don’t.
5 Mindfulness Activities to Add to Your Routine as a Business Owner
You’ve probably already carved out time to document and refine your business goals to help drive your ongoing practice success. Blocking off regular time to prioritize your own mental health and stress management will go a long way towards keeping you and your business in balance. To help bring this into focus, we’ve compiled a list of small-but-impactful mindfulness activities that will help you weave gratitude and appreciation into your daily routine.
1. 5-Minute Mindfulness Meditation
Incorporating more mindfulness into your routine doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming. A daily 5-minute mindfulness meditation goes a long way towards reducing stress levels and retraining your brain to focus on the here and now. In order to stick with your mindfulness practice, try to carve out the same time each day – for example, in the morning before you start work or at the end of the day to cover yourself in a blanket of calm before bed. If you need help to get started, there are lots of resources you can tap into.
- Listen to a guided clear-mind meditation on a paid app, like Calm, or through a free channel, such as YouTube or Spotify.
- Practice 5 minutes of deep breathing as a way to anchor you in the present.
- Experiment with mantra meditation as a way to ward off unwelcome thoughts and emotions.
You can also experiment with building a few minutes of mindfulness into other daily activities, like meetings. Lots of businesses are embracing mindfulness, like software giant SAP. According to Peter Bostelmann, director of SAP’s global mindfulness practice, many of their managers have normalized opening meetings with short meditations.
2. Practice Gratitude and Appreciation with a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal is a popular way to ingrain mindfulness into daily life. What is a gratitude journal? We’re so glad you asked! Don’t let the “journal” part intimidate you. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s less about the format and more about building the habit of writing down 3 things you’re grateful for each day – whether that’s in a notebook or in a notes app on your phone. (But if you’d like a gratitude journal template, here’s one with prompts to get you started.)
Writing down the things you’re grateful for trains your mind to focus on positivity and appreciation. There’s evidence that it offers many benefits. People who wrote in a gratitude journal weekly for 10 weeks or daily for two weeks experienced more gratitude, positive moods, and optimism about the future, as well as better sleep, compared to those who journaled about hassles or their daily life.
3. Celebrate the Small Successes of 2022
Leaning into gratitude and appreciation doesn’t require you to always be in the moment. It’s important to also spend some time acknowledging any small wins you’ve had over this past year and feeling grateful for the benefits and learnings that accompanied them. So make sure to celebrate all of your progress and reflect on your personal growth goals, because even the micro-successes contribute to the big picture of your practice success.
4. Reflect on What Went Right
Regularly practicing mindfulness, gratitude and appreciation leads to viewing life through a more positive lens. Gratitude journaling, for example, invites you to write down and reflect upon the good, fun, and positive moments in your life. It’s important to note that negative thoughts will still enter your mind, but a regular mindfulness practice helps you be more aware of them, so you can acknowledge them, and then release them back into the universe, rather than letting them take up real estate in your ruminating mind.
5. Be Present
Running your growing health and wellness practice alongside your busy life means you’ll naturally have a lot of balls in the air at any time. You probably also spend a lot of time analyzing what happened in the past and thinking about where you need to be in the future. This is normal and expected, but it also makes it all the more important to work on being present in the moments that matter. Mindfulness can help. (Bonus: you’ll feel less stressed and more focused, and you’ll increase the quality of your interpersonal interactions.)
Here are some tips to help you practice being present:
- Tap into tech – Apps like Calm and Headspace use mindfulness techniques to guide you in practicing the skills required to stay present.
- Ditch the distractions – Instead of listening to a podcast or music when you’re walking your dog, lift your head and soak in nature. Take the time to notice what’s around you – the feeling of warm sunshine on your face or the sound of your feet crunching through leaves. Reflect on how those sensations make you feel in the moment you’re experiencing them.
- Breathe easy – We breathe in and out about 22,000 times a day without even thinking about it. But quantity doesn’t equal quality. When you deeply focus on each breath you’ll notice how your body is responding and relaxing. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to your breath.
- Stretch it out – Taking stretch breaks throughout the day is a gift to yourself. It’s particularly important to get up and move your body if you’re practicing virtually and sitting in front of a computer for much of the day. Mindfulness in stretching requires being fully present and conscious of moving your body correctly, taking note of how your muscles are responding to the stretches, and paying particular attention to how your body feels before and after.
Put Mindfulness on Your 2023 “Must-Do” List
As the year closes, it’s important to set up your health and wellness practice to encourage growth and weather potential stresses. But your practice will only be successful if you personally have the energy and focus to serve your clients and follow through on your goals. Make sure to set time aside to build up your mindfulness and gratitude muscles in 2023 too. Your business (and body and mind) will thank you!
While we’re on the topic of gratitude and appreciation, we want to thank YOU for being here. We couldn’t do this without your enthusiasm and support, and we’re so grateful to have you in our Practice Better community.
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