All first-year students at Notre Dame take a year-long course called Moreau First Year Experience; in this class, you discuss important contemporary topics and learn about personal development. Many of the conversations I had in that class still stick with me to this day and I learned a lot that has helped me throughout my college life–one of the themes that has stuck with me the most is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a state that allows you to be present and focus on what’s in front of you without distractions and judgment. This concept was fairly new to me at the time, since I truthfully did not pay much attention to my mental state amidst all my schoolwork and activities.
While I am not an expert by any means, I have definitely noticed improvements in my body and spirit over the last few years just by implementing some small changes in my life. So, here are four main things I like to do to practice mindfulness on a daily basis:
Take in the Sounds Around You
One of my favorite things to do is to take a walk without music and just listen to sounds around me. I usually do this when I’m walking to class, and rather than listen to 10 minutes of sound waves shoved in my ear with an earphone, I listen to the animals chittering on the quad or the sounds of other students shuffling to class. I think it's really important to utilize your active listening skills to be aware of what's happening around you, even without looking at your surroundings directly. This is also useful for safety reasons, as you can be attentive and aware in case anything happens. Listen for sounds you wouldn’t normally hear and try to decipher what the noise is!
Check in With Your Body
Another thing I like to do is “stop and smell the roses” by pausing for a moment and becoming aware of my physical body. I usually hold tension in my shoulders, so once I realize that there is some tightness there, I let it go and feel instantly better. Especially if you are sitting down for a long period of time, you can wiggle your toes and stretch your fingers to get some nice blood flow. I believe that checking in with your body truly lets you take better care of it and realize what it needs to be as efficient as possible. Morning stretches are also a great way to start the day off with a relaxed body that is less likely to be tense throughout the day.
Ground Yourself in Your Space
Physically attaching yourself to another surface or object can make you feel safe and grounded. When I feel lightheaded, I usually sit down on the ground and take a breather, as this can calm your body down and bring your mind to a more grounded and peaceful state. This doesn’t even have to be the physical ground below you, but can be a rooted object– I enjoy using my weighted blanket to not only physically encompass my body, but to mentally keep me together. If you feel stressed and anxious, try to ground yourself to calm your mind down; focus on your breathing and hold onto something until you are in a better state.
Breathe In, Breathe Out
While some can practice this with meditation, others can just take a moment to breathe when life gets hectic. You can help your mind transition from a frantic state to a calm one by simply closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths. It's simple, but works wonders and can really slow your busy mind down. Really try to feel your lungs expand and contract, and you can alternate between breathing out of your nose and mouth. Your body is already automatically doing this for you, so sometimes it's good to check in with your breathing and see how it makes you feel.
When school gets stressful, I like to center my mind with these techniques and I always come out with a better understanding of myself and my physical body. Taking care of your physical health by exercising and eating right is really important, but it's also vital to become in-tune with your mental health–practicing mindfulness brings these two entities together and can truly allow someone to fully understand the present moment. Remember, you don’t need to start all of these right away, just implement one thing at a time, and eventually it will become second nature.
So, how are you going to take care of your physical and mental wellbeing today?