When you don’t show up to school, IRL or virtually, you know what happens: You get marked absent. But even when you’re there, are you actually present?
Sounds like a brain-bending riddle, but it’s actually our way of asking how mindful you throughout your day. Because being mindful is so so so so so (okay, you get the idea) good for your levels of stress (down) and joy (up).
The American Psychological Association cites other benefits, from less “emotional reactivity” (you don’t get as shaken when upsetting things happen), better immune functioning (a lower chance of colds, perhaps), and general improvement in well-being (meaning: you, happier!).
But let’s first make sure we’re all on the same page about what mindfulness really is. Basically, it’s existing in the present moment without thinking about 100 other things or what’s up next.
“People often assume that mindfulness has to be meditation and sitting there with your thoughts. I think there are many ways to do it,” says Richmond, VA, family therapist Elizabeth Hinkle, LMFT, the resident teen expert for the mental health app Talkspace.
She’s talking about “informal mindfulness,” which is a thought process you can incorporate into all kinds of normal stuff you already do, from washing your face before bed to baking cupcakes for your family.
How does one make face-washing or cupcake-baking mindful? Glad you asked! No matter what you’re doing, you apply these five essential steps.
Focus only on that thing. “Multitasking doesn’t create a soothing vibe,” says Hinkle. So…single-task! Shut off the apps, your phone, and YouTube, and don’t take any photos for Insta. Be purposeful with that cupcake! You. Can. Do. It.
Don’t rush. Take the oh-so-glamorous nightly ritual of washing your face and brushing your teeth. “Instead of trying to get it done quickly so that you can move on to something else, invest 100 percent of your effort in your nightly routine,” writes Dzung X. Vo, M.D., in his book, The Mindful Teen (Dr. Vo’s a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at British Columbia Children’s Hospital).
Tune in to your senses. What do you see? Hear? Feel, smell, touch?
Let your emotions come and go. The pros at Harvard university say you should name each emotion (like: anger, happiness, confusion) and simply accept them. “Be present without judgment calls of this is bad or this is good,” explains mindfulness pro Angela Gala.
- “Come back” to your breath. This really just means paying attention to your breathing. As Dr. Vo writes, “’coming back to your breath’…brings your mind and body together in the here and now. You can start to bring yourself back to the present moment, and begin to free yourself from stress, with as few as three mindful breaths.” Notice yourself inhaling and exhaling, from beginning to end—and do so with the kind of curiosity you’d usually reserve for hearing about your BFF’s first date with her new boyfriend. (Yes, breathing can be this riveting.)
Ready to give it a go? To help you along, we put together the mindfulness deets for several everyday activities, and what exactly you should focus on with each.
DOING DISHES: If this is one of your chores, the idea of thinking only about dishes while washing those dishes seems like it would make the whole shebang even more annoying. But there are actually lots of sensations involved in doing the dishes, and homing in on each can make the chore a little more pleasant (try us). Pay attention to the warmth of the water on your hands, zone in to your circular hand movements while rubbing soap over a bowl, feel the softness of the towel when you dry the prongs of a fork.
RELAXING IN YOUR BACKYARD: Lie in the grass and watch the clouds go by. “Every now and then you get a patch of clear sky. You can’t make it happen, but with practice you can allow it to happen,” says Gala. Or lay in the grass and notice the trees, the birds, the bees, and everything around them. Check out your body sensations: Do you feel cool air? A warm breeze? Is your skin tingling, itching, hot from the sun? Are your eyelids wide open or sleepily droopy?
PAINTING YOUR NAILS: Self-care is a great time to be mindful, when you’re already doing something nice for yourself. “Instead of doing your nails in front of the TV or while talking to a friend, think about your five senses,” says Hinkle. “You’re noting the nail paint color and how the texture feels on nail and skin. You’re smelling it. Even if doesn’t smell great, it’s a smell to notice.” (For the record, the polish and remover in our GLU Nail Kit do not smell bad!)
HOT TIP: Check out our mani tutorial to create that perfect polish 👆🏼
WALKING TO SCHOOL: Try to find a path that goes through nature—or at least past some grass and trees! “A mindful meditative practice by walking in nature is a real gift,” says nature expert Jennifer Walsh, who created a cool video series called Walk with Walsh where she interviews wellness leaders while strolling through NYC’s Central Park. “You are not only moving the body gradually but you are giving your brain time to turn off all of the tabs that are always running, just like a computer. Plus, nature is where we are from and the more separated we are from it, the more unwell and isolated we become.”
The benefits of spending time in nature are well-documented: It increases your energy and ability to focus, boosts creativity, and helps you sleep better (ah, bed, how we love you). Walsh recommends leaving your earbuds in your backpack, so that you can “allow your senses to be activated. You are aware of the temperature of the air, what you smell, what you see, what you feel, and even if you can taste the air.”
But that’s not all: We’ve got more ideas! (“You can choose to do anything mindfully,” reminds Hinkle.) Try being mindful while…
- Giving yourself a foot massage
- Eating alone
- Dry-brushing your skin in the shower
- Petting your cat or dog
- Working in a garden
- Practicing the piano or violin
- Helping cook dinner
Also take a look at our “meditation” article to take mindfulness one step further…