Mindfulness: A gateway to better mental health

It seems like everyone is jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon. Whether I am scrolling through my Instagram feed or watching my favorite YouTube vloggers, it’s clear that the mindfulness trend has taken the world by storm. But the interesting part is that mindfulness is actually not at all a new concept. People all over the world are trying mindfulness — it’s gained so much steam that it’s even being implemented in schools and doctors’ offices throughout the country. 

For millennia, practices such as yoga and meditation have been used to channel mindfulness. But now, with apps and online articles, there is a plethora of options to try in hopes of finding what works best for you. Since mindfulness is such an individualized experience, the key is to find multiple approaches that allow you to be fully present. Don’t limit yourself to just one technique, as there are many aspects of mindfulness that can help you channel your desired state of mind. 

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are, what we’re doing and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. It’s something we all already have inside of us — the tricky part is channeling it. 

While there are more options and ideas for practicing mindfulness than ever, some of the most common mindfulness practices continue to be meditation — seated, standing or in motion — breathing techniques and yoga. The goal of these activities is to help you feel connected to all facets of yourself. A body scan is an easy way to do this. It’s as simple as asking yourself questions: What sensations do I feel right now? What smells are invigorating my senses? What emotions come to the forefront of my mind? All of these questions and more are things you want to try and identify in hopes of becoming more present in all parts of yourself, mind and body. At UC Berkeley, there is a plethora of yoga and meditation classes offered through Berkeley Rec Sports, which makes it super easy to get started.

Yet mindfulness is not limited to these activities and that’s what makes it so attractive as a mental help technique. As mindfulness is growing in popularity, it is easy to get sucked into the “trendiness” of it all. Make sure you are taking on the world of mindfulness with the right intentions to best help yourself and your own mental health. 

 I personally have struggled with stress and anxiety my entire life, which unfortunately is extremely common. In fact, according to the American Institute of Stress, 73% of people experience psychological symptoms caused by stress. For me, it took a while to realize that exercise and sports are the specific practices that get me into my most mindful state. I had tried meditation, yoga and endless breathing techniques. While sometimes they were soothing, most of the time, I found myself more frustrated than at peace. But when I find myself in a spot where I am pushing my physical limits, there is no better way for me to connect to my state of mind. I am minutely aware of every feeling throughout my whole body. And when my physical limits fight against me, I have to push beyond that into my mental boundaries to reach my goals — and in those moments I feel the rewards of mindfulness. 

Every time I am stressed or overwhelmed, however, I do not always have the time to practice mindfulness through sports. This is why having multiple types of mindfulness practices works for me. Because I was able to identify what makes me feel most present, it is easier to channel that feeling through secondary methods when necessary.

Outside of sports, what has really helped me is my mindfulness app. With modern-day technology, it is so convenient to have access to a myriad of exercises that can help me quickly and efficiently destress or lower my anxiety. My personal favorite is the app Headspace. It has dozens of different resources that can help with any mindful problems you are experiencing. They offer more than 15 categories to easily organize the varying issues you might be struggling with. Some of the ones I use often are “Stress & anxiety,” “Work & productivity” and “Falling asleep & waking up,” but there is truly a category to help with anything you are going through. Headspace also offers “Day to day” exercises if you are more interested in integrating a mindfulness routine in your life rather than just turning to the app when you feel overwhelmed. As busy college students, we don’t always have the time or the option to participate in other practices of mindfulness, but apps like Headspace make it easy to find the right state of mind no matter where you are or how much time you have.  

Although mindfulness and its practices can be so helpful in decreasing anxiety, increasing productivity and a plethora of other benefits, it’s important to realize that learning to practice mindfulness is not a cure for mental health problems. You can practice all of these techniques and feel fully present within yourself and still not be in a state of optimal mental health. That being said, thinking about mindfulness is a great starting place for those struggling with their mental health and is overall a healthy mindset to try and implement in our stressful lives!

Contact Jackie Amendola at [email protected].