Mindfulness is one of the most popular meditation and mental health practices. Its purpose is to increase your awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the present moment without worrying about the past or future. Mindfulness activities help seniors with anxiety, depression, stress, and many other mental health concerns.
If you’ve been looking for healthy relaxation or stress relief exercises, you should consider trying mindfulness activities. Mindfulness is accessible for people of all ages and backgrounds, and it can be an extremely rewarding practice.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Seniors
Mindfulness can be a great skill for anyone to develop, and it can be especially helpful for seniors. Here are some of the best benefits of mindfulness:
Stress is a common problem for older adults. As you go through big life changes like retirement, you may find yourself feeling tense, worried, or anxious. Chronic stress can lead to serious physical consequences like hypertension and heart disease, so keeping your stress levels in check is critical.
Mindfulness activities are an excellent form of stress relief. As you become comfortable with the practice, you’ll learn to handle difficult or stressful situations without having an intense reaction. Mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises can also help you calm down your nervous system when you experience symptoms like a racing heartbeat or muscle tension.
Memory is a common concern for seniors, but exercising your mind can help to keep your memory sharp. Mindfulness is one of the best ways to strengthen your brain and your memory. It’s particularly beneficial for your working memory, which is your immediate short-term memory. Research shows that mindfulness meditation can even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Mindfulness can strengthen many cognitive processes, including your attention span, alertness, and logical reasoning. One study found that mindfulness activities physically change the brain by increasing the volume of grey matter, particularly in the areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
Mindfulness can help with symptoms of depression and other mood disorders, which are unfortunately common in seniors. Even if you don’t have a mental health disorder, practicing mindfulness can improve or regulate your mood. Mindfulness activities encourage you to focus on the present without ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, which leads to feelings of peace and contentment.
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. You may have to try a few activities before you find the one that works best for you. Here are some of the most popular mindfulness activities:
To practice mindful breathing, start by finding a comfortable place to sit and closing your eyes. Then, focus your attention on your breath. Notice how your body feels as you breathe in and out. Don’t try to slow down your breathing or follow a pattern. Instead, pay attention to how you breathe naturally.
Your first few breathing meditations should be very short so that you can slowly adjust to the practice. Five minutes is plenty of time to start with, but you can gradually increase the length of the meditation as it becomes more comfortable.
Some people find it helpful to use a visual resource during breathing exercises. You can draw a circle on a sheet of paper and trace your finger around it while you breathe. Inhale between 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock, and exhale as you trace the other half of the circle.
Body awareness exercises are similar to breathing exercises, but you call attention to your body instead of your breath. Once you get comfortable, notice how your feet feel. You may feel the floor beneath them, or you may feel the sensation of your socks or shoes.
Then, notice your ankles and calves. Gradually work your way up your body, noticing how each part feels. Try to release any tension that you feel. As you complete this body scan, pay attention to any thoughts, feelings, or emotions you have.
Mindful walking is a good option for seniors who prefer active exercises. If you have a hard time staying focused while you’re sitting quietly, you may find it easier to practice mindfulness while you’re moving.
Find a quiet, peaceful place to take a walk. Focus on the physical feeling of walking. Notice how your feet feel on the ground, and pay attention to the rhythm of each step. Then, focus on your surroundings. What do you see and hear around you? Are you cold or warm? Do you feel a breeze on your skin? The goal is to be fully aware of your environment, your body, and your mind as you walk without letting your mind wander too much.
Writing in a journal helps you focus on your current thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness journaling can be as structured or unstructured as you want it to be. Some people prefer to write whatever comes to mind in the moment, and others like to follow a theme or pattern.
Journaling in the morning can be especially effective for starting out your day with the right mindset. You can write out your goals and intentions for the day and describe your mood. Another popular option is gratitude journaling, which encourages you to write down the things you’re thankful for each day.
Mindful eating is good for both your physical and mental health. It’s very common for people to overeat because they’re not focusing fully on their food. When you practice mindfulness while eating, it’s easier to eat slowly and stop when you’re full.
First, notice how your food looks, feels, or smells. Then, as you eat it, pay attention to the taste and texture. Make sure you finish each bite before you prepare the next one. Try to minimize distractions during your meals, too, so that you can focus fully on the food.
What to Expect From Mindfulness Practice
It takes time to become comfortable with mindfulness activities. Most people are used to having many thoughts cross their mind at once, so focusing only on the present moment can be difficult.
The goal of mindfulness isn’t for your mind never to wander. Even those who have spent decades practicing mindfulness haven’t perfected it. Your mind will wander frequently, especially in the first few sessions. The purpose of mindfulness activities is to notice when your mind wanders and gently redirect it back to the present. Try not to criticize yourself when this happens.
It’s best not to have any specific expectations for mindfulness activities. Everyone has a different experience, and expecting something to happen can prevent you from being fully present. Instead of waiting or hoping for something to happen, focus on how you feel in the moment. As long as you approach the experience with an open mind, there is no wrong way to react to mindfulness practice.
If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, stress relief, or other wellness practices, reach out to Blue Moon Senior Counseling today. Our licensed therapists specialize in counseling with older adults, and they’re here to support you as you work toward improving your mental health.