Ruby Laine (she/her) is a current undergraduate student at The George Washington University pursuing a Bachelor's of Science in Public Health. She is passionate about improving health outcomes for underserved communities, families, and children. She wishes to assist in expanding access to healthcare and promote healthy lifesyle behaviors. She has previously worked with the NYC City Council in District 2 under Carlina Rivera while being an advocate for constituents and the community. As a member of the editorial team of Today’s Patient as a Senior Contributor, Ruby focuses on reaching out to wider audiences, to spread awareness for health concerns and improve health literacy.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be defined as purposefully bringing one's attention to the present moment; it is a skill that can stem from meditation or other methods. Practicing mindfulness is a process of retraining your mind to focus on the here and now, which relays to the rest of the body. It's all about maintaining a moment's awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations through a gentle method of acknowledging and redirecting our thoughts rather than judging. You can teach your mind to be still and experience true presence with patience, time, and effort.
Where does it come from?
The practice has been around for a long time, but its origins are from Buddhism, specifically a concept known as "Sati," which essentially means "moment-to-moment awareness of present events." It was first made known in the United States by Jon Kabat-Zinn and his
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, which started at the University of Massachusetts. Mindfulness has had essential roles in religious and secular traditions but, more recently, with positive psychology and treatment for stress and anxiety.
How does one practice it?
A lot of mindfulness relates to your breathing and focusing on it or your surroundings to help you slow down. You can do this by taking a few minutes to step outside of your daily routine to focus on the present, whether by sitting outside listening to the sounds of your environment or noticing the smells or your surroundings. It could be just sitting and feeling how your chest moves as you inhale and exhale. Other more persistent thoughts will try and distract you, but you can accept them for what they are and refocus, all while being patient with yourself. There are also guided meditations both in podcasts and apps if you prefer something more structured or have difficulty focusing.
What is its impact on your health?
There are plenty of studies supporting the practice of mindfulness, and it results in positive health outcomes. For starters, it can improve mental health, especially for people struggling with high stress, anxiety, and depression. Our mental health directly correlates with our physical health, and mindfulness is shown to reduce people's stress and even help with treating addiction or overeating. It's been found to improve the quality of sleep, lower blood pressure, and even relieve and help treat pain, especially for people who suffer from chronic conditions.
How can you use it yourself?
You can slowly integrate mindfulness into your daily life by taking a standard activity you do mindlessly and using that time to use your senses and notice your surroundings. Imagine making your morning coffee or tea, and you usually are half asleep or scrolling aimlessly on your phone. Reimagine that moment with each sense; the sunlight warming your face, the combination of the noises of birds and the morning traffic, the smell of what you're making, the fresh air as you open the window, the breeze in your hair as it gets through. Take those few minutes to be present in your mind, body, and space. You could even try writing down how it makes you feel and keep trying it day after day. I will add this little moment to my morning routine and I invite you to do it with me.
May is the month of mental health awareness as well as the heart of spring. This season, consider partaking in a spring clean; not only will it improve your space and physical quality of living, but it will have numerous effects on your mental and physical health.
What is a spring clean anyway?
Spring cleaning consists of a deeper clean, getting to areas you don't normally do, reorganizing things that have gotten messy, and reaching surfaces you might not usually be able to. It doesn't have to be in all one sitting, and there is no perfect definition; it's subjective and up to your discretion. Its purpose is a restart in ways, allowing your space to be cleared automatically has a similar effect on your mind. One aspect of my spring cleaning is going through drawers that don't often see the light and removing stuff that is just taking up space.
Common health benefits:
1. Reduces stress The British Journal of Sports Medicine reports that just 20 minutes of cleaning or organizing can reduce someone's stress by 20%. Cleaning the space you live or work in helps reduce your brain's cortisol levels, which acts as if someone turns down the volume of everything in your head. It leaves room for your brain to focus on what is important instead of going into fight or flight mode.
2. Boosts productivity. While this is similar to reducing stress, it is not the same; instead, they have a causal effect on each other. When stressed, it is much harder for the brain to slow down and be productive, but once that is removed, it improves the brain's ability to process. The Journal of Neuroscience states that the less chaos in your head, the more able you are to get quality work done.
3. Prevents illness. Cleaning items that are used frequently reduces the number of germs being spread and bacteria forming. Finally getting to the hard-to-reach places removes the collected dust, which can easily trigger asthma, allergies, or other breathing issues. Replacing your sponges or taking the time to clean your cutting board can also significantly prevent foodborne illnesses or ingesting harmful bacteria.
4. Reduces risk of physical injury. This one might seem less significant, but excess clutter can greatly increase one's risk of accidental injury, especially for seniors or young children. Experiencing falls is the number one injury-related death for seniors, and having a clean home reduces this risk. In addition to cleaning, securing places for trip hazards, such as cords or rugs.
5. Results in healthier behaviors. Studies have shown that people who keep their spaces organized are more likely to eat healthier and stay active. It can help motivate us to change our lifestyle or promote better behaviors. The American Heart Association even counts housework as moderate exercise, resulting in a similar amount of calories being burned as a light walk, which is already killing two birds with one stone!
6. Improves sleep. Lastly, something as simple as cleaning your room or sheets can improve your sleep patterns. Those who sleep in clean rooms often unwind faster, leading to longer and more quality sleep. Additionally, "The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) found that people who regularly wash their bedding and sheets weekly reported 19% better rest at night" (St. Joseph’s Hospital). These are some of the most studied health benefits, but not bad for motivation to do a deep clean.
So the next lazy weekend or rainy day, try to take the time to do some extra cleaning. The results might surprise you, happy cleaning!