The Doctor is In | Be Mindful about the present

Despite the whirlwind of life’s stressors, focusing on the present by practicing mindfulness can help you have a calmer and more collective mind.


Tate Hildyard

Alpha Phi Alpha run a booth promoting mental health discussion with “insecurity mirrors” and polaroid snapshots at the Homecoming Week Fresh Check on Wednesday, October 16th, 2019. Fresh Check is part of the local festivities for Homecoming Weekend centered around mental health awareness and advocacy.

The current pandemic has taken a toll on everybody’s health: physically, socially, and mentally. For many undergraduates, the thought of the unpredictable future brings with it unwelcome, yet, justifiable, feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. Naturally, our brains react by asking more questions rather than suggesting solutions. Questions such as: “What will my life look like after this is over?” or “Who would take care of me if I get infected?” These points are valid, however, constantly questioning ourselves about the uncertain future can quickly become unproductive and garner unnecessary levels of stress and anxiety.

Now forget all of this for a few seconds. Close your eyes, and breathe deeply a few times, in-and-out. Feel your lungs expand and contract against your ribcage. If you find your mind wandering, notice it (it’s OK!) accept it, and refocus on your breathing. Try this exercise for 3-4 minutes.

What you just did was a bare-bones example of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present that can help you mentally slow down. You can practice mindfulness with any activity you do. For example, the next time you brush your teeth, try to pay attention to your five senses while brushing. Hear the sounds of the bristles on your teeth, feel the sensation of water, the flavor and smell of toothpaste, and gaze upon your reflection in the mirror and observe your surroundings. We brush our teeth every day, so why does this activity sound so bizarre? It is because we rarely stop to observe the small details, and appreciate the present. Usually we are thinking about what we’ll be eating for lunch or how that exam next week is going to go. If you think you’re alone in doing this, you’re not. A 2010 study on mind-wandering published in Science collected real time data on the thoughts, feelings, and actions of 2,250 participants. Researchers showed that people spent 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they were doing, leading to greater levels of unhappiness. By practicing mindfulness in just one to two activities a day, we can increase our present-moment awareness, giving us a sense of peace.

Practicing mindfulness sounds easy, but it can be challenging to practice and implement in our daily lives. After all, it is hard to tell our minds what not to think. Luckily, there are apps available on the consumer market for Android and iOS that can guide listeners in 4-5 minute mindfulness sessions. Apps like Aura, Calm, Headspace, and Insight Timer are just a few popular ones that are free, or have an extended free trial period.

So, the next time you feel your mind wandering; try to take some deep breaths, focus on the present, and see how you feel after. You would be surprised how comforting the present can be, even amid such an unpredictable time.

—Vijayvardhan Kamalumpundi, MD Candidate, Class of 2024