Last updated September 25, 2023
The scientific approach to being mindful: bouncing back from burnout + beginner-proof tips.
Mindful is a buzzword these days. It reminds us to live a peaceful, undisturbed, zen-like existence. However, being mindful does not mean your problems disappear.
In fact, mindful means being present with your ups and downs, mood swings and difficult emotions. It means remaining open and curious as to what is happening—and not judging it. The key principles of mindfulness are awareness, attention, patience, openness, curiosity and acceptance.
Mind full, on the other hand, can be described as the feeling when you want to press pause on the racing thoughts in your head. But let me tell you a secret: being mind full is a natural by-product of being human. Our brains are wired to scan for danger, to look for the next problem to solve. It’s how we survived as a species.
The key here is how to deal with being mind full, and how to get to the other side—the side of being mindful.
Signs of Burnout and Long-Term Stress
Our brain is constantly working to protect us. When our ancestors saw a dangerous animal approaching, their body and mind immediately went into the fight, flight or freeze state—depending on the best way to handle a situation.
Our body knows exactly when to shut down and what to activate in that moment—our cortisol rises, our digestive system slows down, our heart rate and blood pressure rises. We start to breathe more shallowly and might even start sweating so our body doesn’t overheat.
Sound familiar? These are the same symptoms of modern-day stress.
But these days, there are no life-threatening situations around every corner. Instead, there are constant messages, meetings and triggers that activate the exact same stress response in our bodies.
No wonder a lot of people are burned out, stressed and mind full. Our bodies and minds are overwhelmed.
When we don’t put our bodies back into the rest state, our nervous system becomes overstimulated and we experience long-term stress. We push through, even when we are tired.
Oftentimes we skip lunch, because we need to finish an important task. We stay up late scrolling and wake up tired due to lack of sleep, and so on. In the end, we get burned out.
The following symptoms relate to long-term stress which may or may not mean you are heading toward burnout:
- Racing thoughts
- Quickly irritated
- Big emotional reactions to small things
- Difficulty sleeping
- Difficulty focusing
Bouncing Back from Stress & Burnout
Luckily, there is a way for us to take back control and not let modern-day life stress us out until we burn out. We can put our body back into a rested state, but we also need a sustainable system that nourishes and recharges us.
The Power of Mindfulness in the Brain
Mindfulness is not only a trending term, there has also been an abundance of recent research showing the scientifically proven benefits of being mindful.
Remember it all starts in the brain. Our brain scans for danger and sends signals to our body that something is wrong, making our stress levels rise— even when it’s just another email from your boss.
The combination of neuroscience and mindfulness, also referred to as NeuroMindfulness, shows us exactly the other side of this: we have the ability to take back control and put our body back into a rested state, no matter what is going on.
When we are mind full, a network in our brain called the default mode network is active. It’s as if we are on autopilot mode; anxious, stressed, overthinking, binge-eating, binge-watching, distracting ourselves from our pain, being all over the place with our head full of thoughts, etc.
However, as we switch to being present—for example by watching our breath—this part in our brain switches off and the newest part of our brain becomes active. This newer part of our brain regulates self-awareness, memory and planning. This happens when we are mindful.
Beginner-Proof Mindfulness Exercises
You might be thinking: this is all good and well, but how do we do mindfulness? How can we be mindful instead of mind full? Is it just watching my breath?
Can we shift to being present and out of an anxious or stressed automatic pilot mode? And can we be with our emotions instead of pushing through, suppressing them or distracting ourselves?
The answer to all of these is yes. It’s about setting up a system that nourishes you. It’s making the commitment to yourself to invest time and care in yourself and your well-being. As you won’t fix burnout with a short work break, you won’t fix overthinking or stress with one mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness is a lifestyle, and it’s all about taking small steps consistently.
Below are a few powerful yet simple exercises to be done anywhere, anytime.
These exercises are absolutely essential when shifting from mind full to mindful. They have helped me tremendously while coping with anxiety or stress, and are used in my private coaching as well as online courses.
By doing these exercises, you will train your mind to become more mindful, while putting your body back into the rested state.
The exercises can be divided into three groups: cultivating inner awareness, outer awareness and mindful living.
- Breath focus: put a timer, get comfortable and watch your breath flow in and out
- 4-7-8 exercise: inhale for 4 counts, hold for 7 counts, exhale for 8 counts. Puts our body in that rested state
- 4-6 exercise: inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts. Same as the 4-7-8 exercise, this also puts our body into a rested state.
- Loving kindness: when you are experiencing difficult emotions, or you notice negative thoughts, try to bring in self-compassion. Speak kindly to yourself, and others, and know that you are not your thoughts or emotions. They are simply visitors. You, in your essence, will always be there, complete and perfect.
- Feeling overwhelmed? Stressed? Anxious? This simple 5-4-3-2-1 exercise brings you right back into the present moment. Notice:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can feel
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
- Mindful eating: We often rush through our meals, or eat with distractions: our phones, the TV, a colleague or family member. Try to eat without distractions, but mostly, try to involve your senses while eating. What can you really taste? How does it smell? How does the cutlery feel? Take it all in, and notice how you feel before and after eating.
- Mindful chores: One of the meditation myths is that we think we need to carve out time, sit down, have complete silence due to a mindfulness or meditation practice. The truth is you can be mindful anywhere, anytime. Doing your chores mindfully is a great way to incorporate more presence in your day-to-day life. Bring your full presence to washing the dishes, cleaning, cooking, letting the dog out, even showering or brushing your teeth.
Again, presence is key and your senses bring you right back into this moment.
Whether you are struggling with anxiety, lack of sleep, stress, irritation, burnout, or you are perfectly healthy and well: mindfulness helps all of us.
We are all humans who sometimes have a moment where it’s all too much, we feel overwhelmed, sad, or lack focus and concentration… especially during those hard moments, it’s amazing to have this mental toolkit.
Mindful Living Is Healthy Living
Mindfulness is not only a light in darker times, it’s also a way to connect more deeply to ourselves, to feel gratitude, appreciation and compassion.
Whatever your motive or reason for making it to the end of this article is—go for it. Try it out. Do what feels good for you, and honor yourself with it.
Remember, some of the key principles are non-judgment, openness and curiosity. There is no failing, there is only trying—especially when it’s with good intentions.
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