Tapping into Mindfulness: Part 5 of Finding the Spiritual in Eating Disorder Treatment—A 5-Part Series

Mindfulness is moment-to-moment nonjudgmental awareness.  It is accessing our physical senses and focusing on the NOW instead of worrying about the past or the future.  Practicing mindfulness in San Diego is so challenging.  We live in a beautiful place, yet our schedules are packed with work, school, appointments, and other family activities.  San Diego is also an expensive place so live, so I think that often we feel compelled to make as much money we can, sometimes to the detriment of our health.  In this post, I’m going to identify three simple ways to tap into mindfulness to help us calm down our overactive brains and have an easier time negotiating the stresses of San Diego life. 

Whether you have an eating disorder, struggle with body image issues, or just plain feel guilty about eating, life can be so much more stressful because you are thinking about these issues so much that it’s difficult to give your brain a break. There has been so much research on the benefits of mindfulness (just Google “mindfulness research”) that a lot of eating disorder therapists and eating disorder treatment facilities integrate it into their work.  Learning how to manage anxiety is a big part of it.  When you feel anxious, you are typically overthinking what you have or haven’t done in the past, OR, you are worried about what you are or aren’t going to do in the future. I know that a lot of you are busy in San Diego, but here are three strategies to integrate mindfulness into your lives so that you can focus on the PRESENT.

Strategy #1:  Focus on Your Senses

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, access the five senses.  You can practice the “5-4-3-2-1” exercise.  List five things that you see, four things that you touch, three things that you hear, two things that you smell, and one thing that you taste.  What this exercise does is help you focus on the here and now by activating different areas in your brain (vision, hearing, etc.), which helps you calm down.

Strategy #2:  Use a Mantra.

A mantra is a word or phrase that you say over and over, either silently or aloud.  It can help you manage stress.  Several years ago, I attended a training by Dr. Herbert Benson, a mind/body professor at Harvard Medical School who in the 1970s came up with the notion of the relaxation response.  He explained that when you use a mantra—and it can even be as simple as repeating the number one—you can evoke physiological reactions (slowing heart rate, drop in body temperature, etc.) that indicate that your stress levels are decreasing. (See here for Dr. Benson demonstrating techniques of the relaxation response.) It counters the fight/flight/freeze/faint reactions that you have to stressful situations.  

Benson’s aim was to take spiritual ideas of meditation and make them more secular and usable for the general population in the United States.  He shared at my training that using a mantra that is meaningful for you can be especially helpful for calming yourself.  You could use the word “peace” or “love.”  If you believe in God, you can say, “God is good,” “God loves me,” or “God is love.”  If you’d like to practice self-compassion, state, “May I be kind to myself,” “May I be at peace,” or “May I be happy” (See works of Jack Kornfield, Dr. Christopher Germer, or Dr. Kristin Neff for more self-compassion techniques).

Strategy #3:  Connect with Nature.

Even though you live in such a vibrant, beautiful place as San Diego, you can get caught up in your lives (and your phone!) that you don’t take the time to notice the beauty, fragility, and awe-inspiring aspects of nature.  Outside our home office is a window with a tree that has yellow blooms at the ends of its top branches.  One morning I took my breakfast and opened the blinds so I could look at the sunny flowers and focus on nature while I ate.  To my surprise and delight, I saw many honeybees flitting from flower to flower. I was mesmerized as I watched individual bees flying, landing, and pausing, and flying, landing, and pausing again.  I immediately felt calmer, as I was focusing on the wonder of nature instead of compiling my to-do list and stressing about my day.  I now regularly look out my window and watch the bees.  It grounds and centers me.  I feel connected to nature, to myself, and even to God.

I encourage you to practice these strategies.  You’d even be surprised how doing one mindful thing for five minutes a day can help calm you. 

Thanks so much for reading my blog!  Have a wonderful week!  :)

If you are struggling to find eating disorder treatment in San Diego, give me a call for your free 15-minute phone consultation at (858) 699-3754, and I will help you get where you need to be!