Explain This: How Can I Cut Stress and Increase Focus?

Mindfulness meditation can help you become more attuned to the present moment, says Specialist Professor Cynthia O’Connell of Monmouth’s School of Education.

Have you ever walked into the kitchen only to realize you don’t remember why you’re there in the first place? Or forgotten to include the attachment on an important email? Then you could benefit from practicing mindfulness meditation, says Cynthia O’Connell, a specialist professor in Monmouth’s School of Education.

At its core, mindfulness is noticing what’s happening in the present moment. “You can be mindful without practicing meditation,” says O’Connell—by single-tasking rather than multitasking, for example. “The practice of mindfulness meditation, however, is setting aside time each day, or a few times a day, to concentrate on being present.”

Anyone can benefit from it. According to the American Psychological Association, mindfulness meditation is linked to reducing negative thoughts, cutting stress, boosting memory, increasing focus, and other health benefits. How does one do it? It’s simple, says O’Connell.

First, sit or recline in a comfortable position. Then, concentrate on your breathing. “Breathe in and out slowly through your nose,” says O’Connell. “As thoughts come in, acknowledge that thought and let it float by like a cloud in the sky. You can revisit that thought later.”

Some beginners might find that meditation comes naturally to them; others can benefit from the help of a guided meditation mobile app. O’Connell also advises beginners to put a sticky note on their computer monitor, steering wheel, or cell phone to remind them to practice.

So how does concentrating on your breathing a few minutes each day translate to being more mindful in day-to-day life? “It helps you remember to ‘STOP,’” says O’Connell, which is an acronym she recommends for beginners. Whenever you find yourself on autopilot, remember to: Stop and take stock of where you are; Take a breath; Observe what’s happening around you; Proceed forward. Before long, mindfulness will filter into your life.

If you already practice mindfulness meditation and want to take your practice to the next level, try a few creative exercises: eat silently and notice your food, or take an entire minute to eat a piece of chocolate. “See what it tastes like; notice the sensations,” says O’Connell.

The most important thing is to keep practicing. “Make it part of your daily routine just like eating, drinking water, and brushing your teeth,” says O’Connell. “In order to reap the benefits, it has to be a daily effort—even if it’s just two minutes.”

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