Woman looks straight ahead; she hears birds chirping, sees a windowsill with flowers, and smells a cup of green tea.

What Mindfulness Isn’t And How to Use It

Recently, I had an opportunity to listen to and be taught by a remarkable family physician, who believes that practicing mindfulness is an effective way to deal with stress and anxiety, more than taking a boatload of meds. She prescribes meds as she needs to, but clearly she sees mindfulness being used in partnership with meds. She believes it allows us to gain back happiness that’s challenged through life events and disease. I am grateful for her wisdom.

What mindfulness isn't

The term mindfulness seems so abstract to me. For me to understand, I had to start with what mindfulness isn’t. Mindfulness is not meditation. It has no religious affiliation, no rules, and does not require me to sit in an uncomfortable position while I’m already stressed.

What mindfulness is

Mindfulness is being present in the moment. It is being aware of what I see, feel, and hear at that moment. It can involve all of my senses. It’s paying attention to my reaction to the stressor. It’s guiding my mind and body through the moment. It’s simple. If my mind drifts to the stressful situation during my mindfulness exercise, that’s okay. When I realize it, I simply call my thinking back to what I am trying to focus on. There is no beating myself up.

How to use mindfulness

Here’s the example the doctor used. It just happens to be one I can relate to. As you will read, I will be using a very small piece of high-quality chocolate to deal with my stress.

"I notice the room I am in, a quiet room. There is little background noise.
I am sitting on a chair. I feel it enveloping my butt.
My back is touching the back of it. It’s smooth, leather.
There’s lumbar support. It feels good.
The room temperature is cool. It feels good on my arms.
My feet are flat on the floor. My shoes are loose.
I am breathing shallow. I focus on breathing slow and deep.
My shoulders are relaxed.
I turn my attention to the piece of chocolate.
I look at it, see all the imperfections in it, all the grooves.
I notice the color, brown, dark brown.
I think what it will smell like, taste like, feel like in my hand.
I pick it up. Look at it. It’s appealing to me.
It feels smooth except for the ridges. I run my fingers over it.
It is getting squishy from my warm fingers.
I smell it. It has a stronger smell than the usual chocolate I smell.
I put it in my mouth. It’s melting.
It’s making my mouth water. I can feel it in my cheeks.
It’s not too sweet. It is not bitter either.
It’s satisfying. I swallow it.
I breathe out, slowly.
I am done."

I used this example as a way to learn mindfulness. It can be applied to any stressful situation. As the doctor instructed, it doesn’t have to take long to practice mindfulness. When we are in a stressful moment, taking a couple of minutes to be mindful by walking through the exercise, can help reduce stress. I have used it - it works.

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