While we need nutrition, exercise, and sleep to fuel our bodies and set ourselves up for success properly, we also need to pay attention to our minds.
Becoming physically healthy is an excellent start to optimal mental health, but we've got a lot of conditioning to counteract. Our brains are wired for survival, which helped humans reach the 21st century intact. However, we don't face the same threats as our ancestors did. The tactics and strategies we developed for survival are now contributing to dis-ease in the forms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
One of the most potent antidotes to these new threats is mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
An example of being mindful is stopping yourself before you say something you might regret. An example of being mindless is saying the thing, lashing out and letting your emotions take over.
The good news is that there are some simple ways to increase mindfulness:
1. Practice observing yourself - Pay attention to what thoughts or feelings come up throughout the day without judgment. If someone cuts you off in traffic and your blood pressure spikes, observe that with curiosity. You might ask yourself why you are willing to give that incident so much power.
2. Practice being present - It is said that depression occurs because we are living in the past, and anxiety occurs because we are living in the future. While those are broad generalities, there is some truth to them. When we are busy anticipating a future event or reliving one from the past, we are robbing ourselves of this moment and reducing our capacity to feel joy. The more we live in the past or the future, the less joyful we become.
3. Practice gratitude - It's impossible to be grateful and in a negative mindset at the same time. Can't identify anything to be grateful for in your life? Start small; appreciation for being privileged enough to be reading these words is a great place to start. Are you wearing clothes? Be grateful for those (or, for the fact that you can decide not to wear clothes!)
Notice that each of the tips above are practices. These are things to do often to build up your ability and frequency. The goal is to reach a point where doing them is a regular part of your life.