Ease Stress and Improve Focus with Mindfulness
By Daisy Barringer
Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for helping to navigate stress, reduce burnout, improve sleep, and increase the quality of your overall mental health. But did you also know that it can help you concentrate better? Mindfulness exercises can help ease the mental burden many of us have felt since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and provide an immediate way to focus and cope with the stress of our current day-to-day lives.
Have you had trouble focusing lately? Have you been feeling ‘on edge’? If so, you’re not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has blurred the lines between the professional and the personal, all while the world is in a state of high alert – increasing anxiety and stress for many of us. These may be difficult times for many people, but mindfulness is one practice you can incorporate to help you feel better mentally and physically, as well as to help improve concentration.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of consciously paying attention to the present moment (versus operating on autopilot) in an open, patient, and accepting way. Mindfulness benefits include feeling a sense of calm and inner stillness – but it does mean being willing to face what we are feeling, which isn’t always easy. Distractions are a common way to avoid anxiety and stress, which is why many people often turn to them. Distractions such as smart phones, that pile of laundry that isn’t going to fold itself, and even one’s own thoughts are often used as a way to avoid the things we don’t want to face.
Mindfulness can help counteract the coping mechanism of distraction and guide us back on track to what’s happening right in front of us. Plus, it’s simple to incorporate into our lives. Whether it’s while doing the dishes, drinking a cup of coffee, or taking a walk, bringing mindfulness into daily activities can help reduce stress and anxiety, boost your mood, and enhance concentration. Best of all, it’s something that people of all ages can add to their routine, even children.
How mindfulness can help improve focus
The stress of COVID-19 has made focusing especially difficult for a lot of people. If you’ve been struggling with productivity, you’re not alone. Pandemic “brain fog” is a real thing and can result in reduced cognition, the inability to concentrate, as well as a loss of short and long-term memory. If this feels like you, incorporating small moments of mindfulness into your day-to-day routine may be an easy way to change that. Here are a few simple things you can do to get started:
Start your day with intention
Begin your morning by asking yourself, “What is my intention today?” This will set the tone for the day, while also giving it direction and purpose, rather than something to just get through. You may want to create an orderly working environment or attempt to meet the day with more optimism. If you’re having a hard time coming up with an intention, ask yourself what matters most today or what commitment you want to make to yourself.
Guided mindfulness meditations can also be a good way to start your day. Research shows that mindfulness apps – when used daily for eight weeks – can help improve overall mental well-being, reduce job strain, and even lower self-measured workday blood pressure. Depending on your health plan, you might have access to Wellvolution®, an online platform that connects you with health apps and programs – including those dedicated to mindfulness and mental health.
Focus on one task at a time
Multitasking has become the norm for many of us. Whether we’re watching TV while looking at our phone, jumping between tasks at work, or cooking dinner while helping the kids with homework, we’re often doing several things at once. Unfortunately, this is actually detrimental to maximizing our productivity because when we do several things at once, we aren’t wholly concentrating on any of them.
In fact, research shows that multitasking actually lowers productivity by as much as 40% and is linked with increased sadness and fear. Practicing mindfulness, on the other hand – meaning placing your attention on one thing at a time – can help with learning, memory, emotional control, and awareness.
Next time you find yourself eating dinner while scrolling through social media, consider putting your phone down and allowing yourself to fully enjoy what you’re eating. Pay attention to the smell of the food and how it tastes. Notice if you are just trying to get through the task of eating. Perhaps try slowing down and savoring each bite.
Go for a mindful walk
Many people are opting for outdoor activities during the pandemic. It’s a safe way to get fresh air and exercise and can relieve some of the stress and frustration that comes with being cooped up at home
If going on a stroll is something you enjoy, consider using it as a way to practice mindfulness. Instead of listening to music or catching up with a friend on the phone, pay attention to your surroundings. Look at the leaves budding or changing colors; listen to them rustling in the wind; notice how the air smells. Pay attention to the way your body feels and the movement of your breath. Be present in the moment and notice how that feels.
It is normal to feel distracted, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. There’s nothing wrong with not being as productive as you once were or would like to be. Give yourself a break and know that you’re not alone. Depending on your plan, you may also have access to mental health care services through Teladoc or Magellan. If you’re really struggling to move forward or get through the day, you may find it useful to speak with a mental health care professional who can help you manage your mental load.
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