Healthy Living

Ask the Doctor: Why Mindfulness Matters

Michael Todd, MD | Aug 1 2018

Five ways that being more mindful can change your life

You may find it surprising that, as a physician, my ideal answer for most things is not medicine — at least not in the pharmaceutical sense. Of course there are always going to be times when your child needs an antibiotic, or a chronic condition requires management in a way that can only be achieved with medication. However, having worked in my field for decades, I remain constantly aware of just how much mindfulness matters.

So what is mindfulness? In short, it’s being present — consciously aware of the moment you’re in, the feelings you feel, your body, the energy of your environment, and more.

Many of us know the illnesses that plague our society get their roots from lifestyles that are less than ideal. So how can mindfulness change that? Let’s look at just a few examples…

If we are mindful, fast food won’t be on the menu

Fast food is often a choice that results from sudden onset of hunger, lack of time, or screams from the backseat. When we’re mindful, we remain aware of our body’s rhythm. Awareness of your body includes understanding and anticipating the frequency with which we need to eat and the portions we need to keep energy up. As a result, we make proactive decisions and plans to maintain that rhythm.

When you are mindful, you will be less reactive. Try packing healthy snacks and food journaling. In your journal, try to write down more than just what you eat — write down how your food makes you feel.

We will do more

You may already feel like you do it all. But I want you to really challenge yourself here.

Think about how much time you spent distracted today. Did you get zoned out on your phone, scrolling through hundreds of social media posts? Did you find yourself tuning out what could have been a meaningful conversation because you were paying attention to the pings of new messages coming in? When we commit to being mindful, we realize that although sometimes we feel like there’s not enough time do it all, if we cut out the moments of distraction, we will use that time to actively participate in life.

We will move more

Just like its ability to help us recognize trends of distraction, staying mindful can help us stay conscious of how movement affects our body, and as a result, you’ll find yourself being more active on a daily basis. When we’re aware of our physical wellbeing, we recognize how being active improves how we feel. This is where wearing a device like a Fitbit or other fitness tracker can help. You’ll start to notice that you lose more weight and have more energy when you’re moving more. That physical boost will lead to a mental boost, and you will naturally start to prioritize taking a walk in the fresh air, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. It’s a great way to reinforce good, and even small daily changes to be more active.

We will make time for reflection and calm

Stress and anxiety are major factors in contribution to a host of more serious illnesses. If you are in tune with your feelings, your stressors and your energy, you’ll also be in tune with your need to relax. Listening, and I mean really listening, to your body is critical. You’ve got to be mindful enough to feel you’re amped up and stressed to be aware of what triggers it and how to reduce it.

Headaches will be less frequent

Similar to the item above, headaches are often caused by factors that are within our control. When we’re mindful, we spend more time consciously aware of how we feel both physically and emotionally and have a better understanding of the causes of those feelings. You may come to realize that you haven’t given your body enough calm, or you could improve your water intake, or exercise more – all of these things can contribute to headaches. Again, this is a place where journaling can help. If you keep a log of your day, including the things you do and the way you feel, you’ll start recognizing patterns that you can change to improve your wellbeing. Staying present through this process will help you start to subconsciously  address these patterns and make changes to improve your overall health.

What else? What are your tips for being a more active participant in your life? How do you stay mindful? I’d love for you to share your thoughts and tips in the comments.

Michael Todd, MD

  As a member of the Mercy Health family for over a decade, Michael U. Todd, MD oversees clinical strategy for a variety of Mercy Health’s initiatives, including the ministry's employee health and well-being program for more than 33,000 team members, our direct-to-employer strategy, including employer partners and other outside collaborators, as well as the strategy and operations of the Mercy Health Executive Well-Being program. Prior to joining Mercy Health, Dr. Todd was global medical director for GE Capital, and his clinical background includes 16 years as a family practitioner in Cincinnati. Dr. Todd earned a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Duke University and a medical degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He completed his residency at Hinsdale Hospital in Chicago, and is board certified by the American Board of Family Physicians.

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