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Mind Over Mood

4 Tips on Using Mindfulness to Change Your Mood

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Updated May 19, 2014

Although you may not have heard of mindfulness before, it is a mind/body technique that essentially involves focusing on your mind on the present.

To be mindful is to be aware of your thoughts and actions in the present, without judging yourself.

Mindfulness helps us feel better. The practice can induce the relaxation response, a physiological response in which blood pressure drops, heart rate slows, and stress hormone levels decrease.

It is used as a remedy for stress, depression, and even chronic pain. Mindfulness is being taught in clinics and medical centers across the country. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the field, developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at The University of Massachusetts Medical School. And the National Institutes of Health held its first conference on mindfulness.

Here are some simple ways to use mindfulness to make positive changes in your mood and health.

1. Try this simple two-step technique

Step 1: Sit alone in a quiet room. Find a comfortable position.

Step 2: Focus your attention entirely on your breathing.

2. Focus on one task at a time

Seems easy, right? But think of how often you've browsed the web or checked email while working on a project, or talk on the phone while driving or doing something else.

In our multi-tasking world, we are becoming less able to focus and it affects not only our productivity but our mood and our health.

For instance, research has shown that people who multi-task are more likely to have high blood pressure.

3. Don't get distracted during mealtime

When was the last time you sat down at a table and had a meal without thinking about what you had to do afterwards, or without reading, watching tv, or talking?

To practice mindfulness while eating, eliminate all distractions and savor, rather than inhale, your food.

Pay full attention to what the food looks like on your plate, how it smells, how it tastes.

Chew slowly.

Be aware of how full you are becoming. People often notice that food tastes better this way and is more filling.

A healthy bonus: A pilot study at Indiana State University found that mindfulness, including specific instructions to slowly savor the flavor of food and be aware of how much food is enough, helped to reduce eating binges from an average of four binges per week to one and a half.

4. Try going for a mindful walk

In a study called the Ruth Stricker Mind/Body Study, researchers divided 135 people into five groups of walkers for 16 weeks.

One group walked briskly. Group 2 walked at a slow pace, group 3 walked at a slow pace while practicing mindfulness, group 4 practiced tai chi, and group 5 changed nothing about their lives.

The researchers found that the group practicing mindfulness while walking had a significant reduction in anxiety.

They also had more positive and less negative feelings about themselves, and that the benefits were noticed immediately.

So how do you go for a mindful walk? Simply let all your thoughts of the future and past go.

Notice what the ground feels like under your feet, how you're breathing.

Observe your surroundings. Look at the sky, the trees, feel the wind on your cheeks. Enjoy your walk!
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