As we break out our winter jackets, feelings of the previous winter seasons may get broken out with them. It seems that year after year, we find ourselves excited about cozy winter activities, yet we dread the stress that is accompanied by the cold months. The days become shorter, work becomes busier, and school becomes inundated with tests and essays. Reaching a state of calm can feel like that much more of a challenge if you don’t have ways of grounding yourself. Here are three mindfulness tips to avoid the snowball effect of stress this winter season:
1.Mindful Journaling: Waking up during the winter months can be difficult. A mindfulness journal can help you start the day by noticing your surroundings, emotions, and thoughts. The journal prompt can be as simple as, “What am I feeling this morning?” or “What does it look like outside?” Maybe you are feeling sleepy, stressed, or calm. Maybe there is a deer outside. Maybe it is snowing. A mindfulness journal can also be helpful with noticing thoughts: “What am I thinking this morning?” The trick to the mindfulness journal is that no judgment is allowed! A centerpiece of mindfulness practice is to notice thoughts, feelings, and emotions without judging them. This may be difficult at first, however, the mindfulness journal will help track your progress!
2. Be Mindful of the Five Senses: During moments of high stress, we may find ourselves feeling too overwhelmed to practice meditation, write in a journal, or even practice breathing exercises. The Five Senses Mindfulness Exercise can help you find your calm and find it quickly. The Five Senses exercise consists of noticing five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Although it may be chilly outside, it may be helpful to take a break from work and practice this exercise outside. Maybe you notice leaves crunching under your feet. Maybe you hear the wind whipping through the trees. Maybe you let a snowflake fall on your tongue. By practicing this mindfulness exercise, you will notice that your breathing slows down and your racing thoughts subside. By being mindful of the present moment, you will feel grounded in your surroundings.
3.Slow Down to Shift Out of Auto-Pilot: Often, we carry out our tasks on autopilot. We find ourselves getting into the car and reaching our destination without even remembering the ride. Our brains are constantly receiving new data and trying to make meaning out of it (even when we are sitting at a red light!). Noticing the little things can help us be more present and feel more grounded in our surroundings. On your typical commute, try noticing what’s around you.. What does the sky look like today? Is it very blue? Is it cloudy? Who do you notice on the road? Is someone walking their dog? Is someone on a run? Are there any leaves left on the trees? These questions may seem silly, but they bring you into the present moment and out of your head. You may notice your mind wandering again; maybe you’re thinking about your upcoming final exam or a presentation at work. Notice these thoughts, try not to judge them, and slowly bring your attention back to your car ride.
Mindfulness is a practice; meaning, it may not come easy at first. You may find yourself judging your emotions and thoughts. You may find your brain wandering in different directions as you try to journal or complete the five senses exercise. It will take time to acclimate to the non-judgmental process of mindfulness. By practicing, you can begin to understand your stressors and integrate techniques to alleviate them. Eventually, you will find yourself cozied up with hot chocolate asking yourself, “What does this cup feel like in my hand?”
By Elise Palumbo, Social Work Intern