Mindfulness is Now a Matter of Survival

By October 9, 2017Life, Mindfulness

They say that mathematics is thirty-three percent equations, thirty-three percent proofs, and thirty-three percent tricking yourself into thinking you’re actually going to use that junk in real life!

Every day, I anxiously sit in my calculus class, wishing I would spontaneously combust. It doesn’t help that I average four hours of sleep every night or that my tinder matches won’t stop messaging me. Don’t get me started on my professor’s bedtime stories… ahem, I mean lectures. You know what they also say? Old mathematicians never die; they simply lose all their functions.

That’s a good one, right? Yeah, everything I just said was a lie. My calculus professor is extremely helpful and more patient than I could ever hope to be. Turns out math has innumerable applications in all sorts of professions, I average six hours of sleep, and my tinder matches must not be getting notifications or something.

Although my little rant wasn’t real, I’ve observed similar attitudes coming from most people in my age group, myself included. Everyone at school reportedly suffers from severe sleep deprivation, anxiety, shoulder pain, and the attention span of a goldfish. Seriously, have you heard of shaky leg syndrome? All the cool kids are doing it!

It may not sound like that big of an issue; isn’t that how college students are supposed to act? What if I told you kids haven’t always been this fretful? The American Psychological Association led a 2014 survey that focused on the frequency of psychiatric disorders among different generations. The subjects were divided into three categories: Millennials, Generation X, and the famous Baby Boomers. Only four percent of Baby Boomers surveyed had been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. That number doubled to eight percent for my parents’ group and tripled to a staggering twelve percent in the youngest demographic. The graph created by this set of data reveals an insidious curve that was also found in depression and looks to continue for generations to come.

Specialists are still debating the reason for this sharp increase in psychiatric problems. Some attribute it to younger generations being raised to believe they are somehow “special” and expected to achieve great things. Others say our cookie-cutter education and sheltered upbringings have left us staggeringly unprepared for the real world. Our cellphones certainly aren’t helping. We have replaced sunlight with LED screens, and the warmth of human interaction with burned thighs from overheated laptops.

All of these factors have one thing in common; they have hindered our ability to live in present time.

Our entitlement, lack of common sense, and social media addiction have completely detached us from the real world, and that’s not an exaggeration.

Take a moment to think about the implications of this restless epidemic. In the above study, about one in every six people between the ages of 18 and 33 equates to millions of Americans with clinical depression, and it’s only getting worse. This problem doesn’t only yield abstract, socio-economic consequences; it’s a curse of agitation that makes millions of people feel like their lives are no longer worth living. This problem has become a centerpiece issue for the brightest minds in modern psychology. According to one article from Time Magazine titled The Mindful Revolution, “Finding peace in a stressed-out, digitally dependent culture may just be a matter of thinking differently.” I was skeptical at first, but the information in those pages proved awfully convincing, and I quote: “To view mindfulness simply as the latest self-help fad underplays its potency and misses the point of why it is gaining acceptance with… Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, FORTUNE 500 titans, [and] Pentagon chiefs.” Now that sounds like something I want to be doing! As it turns out, you don’t need to be a Ph.D. or the Dalai Lama to understand, develop, and practice mindfulness. Successful minds ranging from Rupert Murdoch to 50 Cent practice meditation on a regular basis.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is one’s ability to concentrate on the moment at hand and arrange one’s thoughts in a way that maximizes cognitive and emotional health.

Neuroscientists have found that practices like meditation and yoga can have a profound positive effect on how we interact with our rapidly changing environment. By training our brain to absorb more present information, we can stop feeling guilty about the past, worrying about the future and make the most of our current place in time. This is by no means a far-fetched idea, just like lifting weights can fortify our muscles; we can improve the very structure and chemistry of our brain through daily mindful practices.

You don’t have to take my word for it. As I said, this is one of the most researched subjects in psychiatry. Dr. Madhav Goyal of John Hopkins University published a report including 47 different case studies supporting meditation as an invaluable tool in managing anxiety, depression, and pain. There is nothing mystical or supernatural about it; these breakthroughs are based on some of the best science available. Big companies such as Google along with Nike, Time Warner, General Mills, and Intel are training their employees in mindfulness. Take it from Forbes Magazine, and I quote: “Any practice or activity that supports reflection over-reactivity, encourages feeling feelings rather than acting on them, and opens awareness to what is really going on is of benefit. Slow down, notice, and savor is a great way to build mental wealth no matter where or how. It just is. All mindfulness really is good mindfulness.”

Just like physical exercise, mindfulness requires practice and patience, so here are a few ways in which you can become a mindful thinker:

  1. First, and I know you saw this one coming; you can practice meditation. Simply breathe and relax while focusing as much as possible on each individual breath. Your mind will wander off initially, so just catch yourself drifting, and return your attention to the breath itself.
  2. Second, the good folks at Harvard Health Publications give the following advice for focusing on the present: engage your senses fully, and focus on each sight, touch, and sound so that you savor every part of every second. This becomes a lot easier when coupled with a stimulating activity you find entertaining, like drawing or playing an instrument.
  3. Third, the Internet can either be a diversion or an incredible resource for finding more information about this topic.

Don’t forget the potential costs of overlooking this Mindful Revolution. Anyone can benefit from being able to bring their 100% to the table every single day. There’s a reason why world leaders are paying millions for training in this very discipline. We cannot ignore the necessity for being in control of our own feelings, especially in an age when we are digitally bombarded by other people’s thoughts every minute of every day.

Mindfulness is not only the key to success in the twenty-first century; it is also a prime requisite for leading a happy, fulfilling life in the changing times ahead.