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When we can focus on becoming more aware of what’s happening in the moment– observing our thoughts and feelings without reacting to them–we can learn to relieve ourselves of anxiety or depression.

That’s the theory of mindfulness.

“It’s about learning to cultivate mindfulness over “mindlessness,” says Steven Hickman, Psy.D., director of the University of California San Diego Center for Mindfulness. “Mindfulness is what’s happening when we’re enjoying something, losing track of time, unaware of distractions. Mindlessness happens in those moments when we are unaware of where we are, what we are feeling and why we are doing what we are doing.”

It’s developing a different relationship between you and the things that challenge you in your life. You already know how to do it, he says, although you might not have had a name for it.

We often try to rid ourselves of anxiety or depression, try to control it, talk ourselves out of it. But that just makes it worse. Instead, you can choose how you react to it.

How can I use mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation. The word may evoke an image of sitting cross-legged on the floor. It doesn’t have to be done that way, but it can be. It can also be combined with relaxation, gentle body movement and yoga to improve focus, management of emotions and the power of observation. Although mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, it is a non-denominational practice.

Here’s how to use mindfulness, says Hickman:

Sit back, take a moment to become aware of the surroundings you are in, the sensations in your body, your thoughts and feelings. Are you feeling excited or anxious? Be aware of physical sensations of tension or pain.
Allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling, without trying to control it. Recognize what’s on your mind, for example, “This feeling of anxiety is here now.”  Notice as the sensations get better or worse, the feelings come and go. Think of them as clouds that float in and out. Relate to your mind and body in the present. Use your breath to keep yourself centered.

“As you become aware of your negative thoughts, recognize that they are just thoughts. They are secreted by your brain. Your thoughts are not you. You can choose whether or not to believe them. You can choose how you will react to them.

“Mindfulnesss reconnects you with the inner wisdom and deep knowing that resides within you.”

Don’t worry if it doesn’t come easy right away, says Hickman. It takes practice to learn to relate differently to our thoughts.

It’s best to practice regularly to deal with everyday challenges, he says, and it’s easier to learn it from a teacher or in a group. To find one, look for a local retreat center, Buddhist group or Zen center.

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