Updated: Feb 10, 2019
You know those days. You've waited until the very last second to roll out of bed, hitting snooze 3 times before rushing through your shower, throwing on whatever clothing looks decent enough, and rushing out the door to grab whatever you can on your commute to eat for breakfast.
You speed through traffic because you're already running a little late, and you find yourself feeling agitated, anxious, and already SO over this day-- and it's only 9am.
Fast forward, and your rushing into work and immediately checking your emails, putting out fires, and tackling upcoming deadlines. You're dealing with difficult bosses and colleagues. You have a ton of work to do, so you don't pick your head up until someone reminds you that it's lunchtime Realizing you're already feeling burnt out and it's only noon, you decide you'll give yourself ten minutes to eat at your desk and "relax"- which never happens anyway because you always end up working while you eat. (Can't let a minute of possible productivity go by without feeling guilty!) You either packed yourself a sad, cold salad or nothing at all, so you run out to eat whatever is close by and going to make you feel a little bit better about your stressful day. Maybe you reach for a slice of pizza, or fast food, or a quick nibble from the Starbucks across the street. Whatever it is, it's quick and probably not the healthiest, and you know you're going to probably be hungry again in an hour. You eat as quickly as you can at your desk, chug another cup of coffee for a boost, and continue working nonstop for the rest of the day.
By 6pm, you're emotionally drained, mentally checked-out, and ready for happy hour.
You rush out of the office as soon as you can, and power over to the nearest bar for a drink with friends. You're SO over today and need to just tune-out. You vent to each other about all of the miserable things you went through that day and bond over getting buzzed to forget about it. You think gossiping and complaining will make you feel petter- purged of those bad feelings- but you end up feeling even more bitter and annoyed. You probably indulge in some high-fat, high-sugar foods to help soak up the $5 spicy margs, and then head home to crash before having to do it all over again tomorrow.
And then that becomes the cycle of your life: Sleeping in until the last second because you're totally zapped of energy, rushing mindlessly through your day, working yourself to the bone, and ignoring what your body and mind really need to feel great.
I was on this cycle for waaay too long, and I'm sure I'm not the only one! It's become a social norm to live like this, which is only reinforced by the media we're exposed to every day. Advertisers have crafted this image of the "ideal adult" and somehow if we aren't burning-out at all ends, we aren't doing life right. Well, I'm here to tell you: There's another way!!!
The secret to living every day with a sense of happiness, flow, and calm is learning how to reclaim back some of those 24 hours for yourself, and making conscious decisions to prepare for and support that. Mindfulness is a key role in that process.
Here are 7 mindfulness practices to help you reclaim your bliss, reduce your anxiety, and increase your overall wellbeing:
1. Create a Morning Routine
It might seem like a pain, but waking up early and giving yourself time to tend to your needs before tending to others' plays a huge role in how good we feel. Set your alarm clock so that you have 1.5-2 hours before you have to leave the house for work. Take that time to wake up gently and slowly, stretch, meditate, read, make yourself a nourishing breakfast, workout or take a nice walk outside--whatever the activities are, make sure they bring you joy and they feel like self-care.
I also want to challenge you to stay away from screens and technology during these sacred 1-2 hours while you're mentally preparing for the kind of day you want to have. It makes a tremendous difference to take time to unplug and just be present. The world isn't going to burn down if you don't answer that email or check your likes on Instagram first thing after opening your eyes. Trust me. It's worth it.
2. Nourish Yourself with Gut-Friendly Food
If you've been following me on Instagram (if not, go check it out!), you know that I'm a huge proponent of the mind-gut connection. Although it was once just a theory, more and more research is coming out confirming that our mood and mental health is directly influenced by the health of our gut, which is concurrently determined by the things that we eat. Foods that are exposed to toxins like mold (it's in most coffee's- even Starbucks!!), pesticides, GMOs, and any other man-made chemicals are extremely harmful to our gut biome. Processed foods (anything that isn't found naturally in nature), gluten, and dairy should also be avoided as much as possible. These foods disrupt our natural gut bacteria and have now been positively linked to the development of anxiety, depression, disordered eating, addiction, and other mental states of dis-ease.
What we put into our bodies is a form of self-care and self-love, so try to shift your mindset so that eating clean, natural food becomes a way of honoring the temple that houses your soul.
Each of us has one human vessel to carry us through this life, and we would be remiss if we didn't honor it. Not to mention, you'll also feel ten times more energetic, happier, and in-tune with your body. So why not?! Stick to any foods that are in their most unprocessed natural forms, cut out sugar, gluten, and dairy, and don't buy anything that has ingredients you dont recognize or can't pronounce!
3. Take Breaks to Breathe and Move
Talking about the mind-body connection, movement and practicing breathwork during your day is a great way to improve your mood. Studies show that even light physical movement releases those feel-good endorphins, improves your immune functioning, and reduces blood pressure. It's also been shown to reduce anxiety and feelings of depression, while raising self-esteem and improving mood. So make sure you're taking small 5-10 minute breaks throughout the workday to stand up, walk around (preferrably outside), and stretch. Maybe if you have the space, try some easy yoga poses!
Pranayama breathwork refers to a handful of breathing excercises where you purposefully manipulate the CO2 and O2 levels in your body to relax the mind and nervous system. The simplest one, is to just take 5 minutes per day to sit somewhere quiet, and take deep breaths slowly through your nose, filling your belly, holding at the top, and then releasing with a "sigh" through your mouth. You can do this anywhere- even in your car!- and it will have powerful effects on your mood as well.
Research shows that breathwork practices can decrease anxiety and depression, increase happiness and optimism, improve sleep, strengthen our ability to regulate emotions, and reduce impulsivity, cravings, and addictions.
Daily breathing practices activate our parasympathetic nervous system, aka our "rest and digest" mode, which decreases cortisol (stress horomone) and helps us feel more peaceful in our minds and bodies. I try to do some deep breathing for 5 mintues, at least twice a day- and especially when I'm extra stressed out!
4. Hygge Your Workspace
In Psychology, there is a concept called "nesting". It's the idea that after we acquire a new space that is especially for us (for example, you move to a new apartment), we need to spend time being in the space and decorating it in a way that makes us feel safe, cozy, and at home. We need to personalize it and make it ours to make it also feel safe and welcoming. Then what was once new and impersonal, transforms into a sacred space filled with peace, joy, love, and safety. This helps us regulate our amygdala (fight/fight/freeze response) and train our brains to release feel-good chemicals whenever we are around our nested space.
The same thing can apply to our workspace. Whether you have a cubicle, a desk, or a corner office, take time to make it yours! Bring in photos of the people (and animals!) you love, incorporate nature by adding a few plants or succulents, put up feel-good affirmations, add an essential oil diffuser to bring in some calming aromatherapy, and store a cozy, warm, fluffy blanket in your drawer for those extra cold days.
By filling your workspace with all of the things that make you feel good, it will become a place that you look forward to spending your time.
Rather than dreading your workspace, it will become a place that recharges you, inspires you, and brings you peace- and that truly makes a huge difference in the entire way you feel about your day.
5. Skip the Booze and Opt for a Soul-Filling, Self-Love Activity
Everywhere we look, we're bombarded with images and advertisements that encourage us to use booze-up to cope with the banality of our 9-5 existence. They tell us that alcohol is a treat, it's that special thing that you should give yourself because life is SO hard, you DESERVE it. It's going to make you feel beautiful, joyous, and excited about life, while helping you forget about anything that is stressing you out. It's that perfect, socially acceptable way to release your adult responsibilties and revel in mindlessness and impulsivity. In other words, it can bring you back to that almost child-like place where you have no real worries and don't have to think things through like a grown up- you can just let it all hang out and blame whatever bad things happen on one-too-many vodka sodas.
The truth is, whatever anxiety or stress you're carrying around doesn't truly disappear by drinking. You can't drink away your reality- you can only push it away until it can no longer be ignored and has to be dealt with. And by doing that, you only increase your anxiety and feelings of overwhelm. Not to mention, ethyl alcohol (what all drinkable alcohol is made of) actually seriously messes with your body and mind. Drinking regularly shrinks your brain volume, causes insane inflammation (the root of many diseases and illnesses), destroys your liver, damages the cellular networks responsible for mood/emotional management, increases feelings of depression and anxiety, causes brain swelling, disrupts the gut biome, hurts your sleep quality, and can cause cardiovascular problems. It if it becomes a lasting crutch, it can also cause irreparable problems with your family, your relationships, and your career.
So, rather than end your workday by sucking down those 2-for-1 beers at the local happy hour spot, treat yourself to something that fills your soul and heart with love and nourishment.
What that means to you is completely, 100% personal. Self-care looks different for everyone, so find out what it is that makes you feel taken care of and then do it! Whether its soaking in a warm bath and reading or listening to music, taking a yoga class with a good friend, being in nature, coloring or painting, volunteering with an animal shelter, baking cookies, or having a dance party in your undies-- just do something that makes you feel alive and happy. I promise that ending your day this way will make a big difference in how great you feel!
6. Journal and Gratitude
This is HUGE! Long story short, our brains need help processing and working things out. We simply do not have the capacity to hold everything in our heads all at once, while maintaining healthy relationships, remembering to care for ourselves, and paying attention to all of the small details that help our lives run as planned.
Sorry, you're not special. Your brain works just like everyone else's and you need to do a brain dump at least once a day in order to keep that machine running smoothly.
Whether it's at the beginning of the day or at the end, I tell all of my clients to spend at least 10 minutes writing down whatever is prominent in their thoughts. Our unconscious mind is always working to solve problems, and when we are physically writing (not typing on a computer!) we're actually accessing that part of our brains and allowing it to breathe and process. This helps relieve a lot of emotional stress, helps to clarify your thoughts, and gives us a sense of relief while also helping us find direction. It's a way to check-in with yourself and see where you are in the moment, and it's an active way to say to your inner child, "Hey, I'm here. What do you need?" Do this for a week, and see just how much clearer your mind is and how much more balanced and calm you feel!
I also want to touch on gratitude, although I'll probably do an entire article on the scientific and spiritual benefits of this practice because I'm such a big fan. It's so important to take time each day and recognize the things you feel grateful for. This might sound really simple, but it has profound effects on how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. Our brains are hard wired to mainly focus on negative experiences, which is rooted in our evolutionary programming for survival. When we were cavemen, our brains had to constantly be scanning for threats in order to ensure we would be able to survive another day. When we needed to go out hunting or gathering, our brains weren't focused on the delicious food we were looking for, but rather on the potential sabretooth tiger that might attack us while we're exposed and away from the safety of our caves. Fast forward to today, and our brains' hardwiring expresses itself as us only being able to think about all the things that went wrong that day, the problems we're facing, and the mistakes we've made. This creates a cloud of judgement, distrust in ourselves, low self-esteem, anxiety, and an inability to be objective about our true lived experience. We actually have to stop and THINK about the positive things in our lives in order for us to truly process and internalize them, which is where practicing gratitude comes in. Taking time to write down your wins, your improvements, and the things going well in your life can actually aid in rewiring your brain's automatic response to focus on the bad. Research shows that practicing gratitude regularily will help you gain mental clarity and better sleep, help you become more empathic towards others, promote higher levels of positive emotions (optimism, enthusiasm, love, and happiness), improve physical health, reduces aggression, and greatly improves self-esteem.
7. Create a Nightly Bedtime Ritual
Just like with your morning routine, create a calming nighttime ritual that will help you get ready for rest and rejuvination. Getting in the habit of doing a consistent nightly routine will help train your brain and body to prepare for sleep at a regular time each day, and will ensure you're getting the best quality rest that you can get. First, I recommend turning off any electronic devices at least an hour before you want to go to bed- the blue light that they emit can really disrupt our ability to produce melatonin, causing us to feel wired and unable to relax. I also reccomend taking time to drink some calming tea or golden mylk, meditate, read, journal, stretch, and visualize what you want the next day to look and feel like. Give yourself credit for the things you did well, and give yourself permission to accept that you also have things that you're working on- which is totally ok and normal. Give yourself the inner support that you need, and then let yourself truly turn-off your mind for the night. If you have trouble sleeping (or live in a noisy city!), try downloading nature noises or meditation tracks to play while you drift off. They help to calm your brain waves and bring them to a relaxed frequency, allowing you to peacefully slip into the cozy, dream-filled abyss.
Gabrielle is a Holistic Life Coach and Founder of OM Therapy Coaching, and currently lives in Marina del Rey, California. For more information or to book a session, visit www.omtherapycoaching.com