Mindfulness: a simple solution to complex problems

Illustration by Julia Gilbert

Margaretta Sackor

Contributing Writer

Practicing mindfulness has become more popular in recent years.

Mindfulness is the idea of being present wherever you are. It’s keeping a calm mind and not overreacting to situations around you which might cause stress. It’s being internally calm and allowing that to reflect on the outside.         

While being mindful includes the basic practice of meditation, some people don’t really understand what it fully encompasses. Mindfulness can help ease anxiety, lower stress levels and mitigate depression; it amazes me that people don’t practice it more often. Doctors don’t teach mindfulness because it isn’t something pharmaceutical companies can sell — but in my opinion, it is the best medicine around for mental health issues.  

        I struggle with severe depression that keeps me down for months at a time and sometimes, it feels almost impossible to get back on my feet. By practicing mindfulness, I get through my depression without losing my sanity. It helps me focus on what’s really important, instead of stressing over things I can’t control. But during an anxiety attack, it takes a little extra time to get there.

My anxiety attacks make me feel like I can’t breathe and I’m about to pass out. My heart speeds up and it feels like I’m losing control. My breathing accelerates even as I try to control and level it. Sometimes, the only thing that works is mindfulness; medical practitioners should take that into account when addressing mental health.  

When I practice mindfulness, it doesn’t require too much. But regardless of how far you immerse yourself in it, you have to be dedicated in order for mindfulness to work.

My mindfulness consists of simple breathing exercises that I typically do a few times a day. At the end of the night, I sometimes do mindful yoga — which focuses on breathing and centering yourself — and meditate before going to bed. Meditation further helps me remain present and clears my head of a stressful day.

Mindfulness can be as simple as going for a walk and, instead of focusing on your problems, focus on the sounds around you; the wind hitting your face; the smells in the air. Simply taking a walk gives you a chance to focus on something other than your problems — and keeps you from making any impulsive decisions.

Even journaling can be a form of mindfulness, because it allows you to focus on one thing at a time. You can put your thoughts on a page, clear your mind and think freely. One thing that makes the mindful experience even better is getting away from technology. Turning your phone off for a while can be refreshing, because you won’t be tied to the social media world. The need to know everything going on outside of your own life is simply a distraction that technology fuels. When you focus on your phone instead of tackling your problems, it only delays the solution.

Now while this won’t magically make all your problems disappear, it will help you feel more confident facing those problems with a clear mindset.

Last year, I worked a teaching assistant for a professor who started each class with short-guided mindful meditation. Afterwards, some students reported feeling better and thought it was beneficial.

These couple of minutes gave the students time to put all their problems to the side instead of focusing on them during class.  If more professors implemented similar mindful tactics, it could help students succeed academically.

There are several studies that prove mindfulness reduces stress levels and mitigates anxiety, but somehow, it isn’t the first choice in the medical field. I, for one, don’t take anxiety medication — because I’m privileged to not have severe anxiety.

But mindfulness is another option to helping anxiety, depression and stress rather than taking pills that suppress your emotions and turn you into a walking zombie. Even people who do not have mental health issues can benefit from mindful practices and the weight it can take off your shoulders.

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