James Novello Shares the Importance of Mindfulness for Overall Well-being
Many people are negatively influenced by the stresses of everyday life. While some have an innate ability to manage stress, others have never learned or were never taught the proper ways to achieve overall well-being. As a result, we often see unhealthy coping mechanisms in much of the population. Take a walk in a big city and you will see almost everything, from substance abuse to the effects of overeating.
People with demanding jobs, like first responders and paramedics, have an increased risk of unhealthy living due to the nature of their work and the physical and mental stresses they encounter. Fortunately, there are steps that these people can follow to improve their physical and mental health.
James Novello, an experienced SFFD paramedic and firefighter from San Francisco, California, explains the importance of mindfulness and healthy living for people with stressful lives and how everyone can work toward better health.
The Basics of Mindfulness
At its core, mindfulness is the practice of accepting thoughts and feelings as they occur rather than trying to change the way the mind is responding. Mindfulness must be practiced in order to achieve the benefits, which include an end to being overwhelmed and overly reactive. By practicing mindfulness, research has shown that the physical structure of the brain becomes remodeled — so there is a very real change when we become fully aware of what we are doing and where we are through mindfulness.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and meditation each have many documented benefits for physical and mental health. Mindfulness can relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It can relieve chronic pain symptoms and can be an excellent addition to cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT.
Mindfulness helps people gain a better perspective on their problems, enabling them to thrive despite a stressful work environment (or any source of chronic stress). Everyone would benefit from meditation and mindfulness in order to achieve strength and resilience, but people engaging in stressful jobs like paramedics and first responders should be encouraged to participate as a preventive measure.
How to Incorporate Mindfulness
The following are basic tenets of mindfulness meditation and how to incorporate them into daily practice:
To achieve mindfulness, people should first learn how to observe their thoughts and feelings. Using their senses, participants can focus on their surroundings. The participant should get in touch with their senses, tracking what they can taste, touch, smell, see, and hear through guided imagery, breathing techniques, or other procedures to relax the body and mind. This helps to ground the participant in their surroundings and provides a concrete base for their meditation rather than dwelling in the future or past.
With mindfulness, the participant is in the moment and becomes incredibly aware of what they are sensing and feeling, but without judging or attempting to interpret these feelings and senses. This works toward the achievement of self-awareness. Distancing themselves from their feelings and thoughts can enable them to be objective while they process them. Awareness can be the first step toward breaking out negative thought patterns, allowing people to focus on the positive.
As part of a mindfulness meditation practice, participants are encouraged to clarify their thoughts and feelings. This understanding can be an important first step toward achieving mindfulness. Examining their feelings and thoughts with depth and clarity enables a person to be more in touch with themselves. Questioning negative thoughts and asking why they are in their mind eventually leads to a better ability to successfully practice mindfulness and achieve inner peace.
Mindfulness includes acceptance as one of its main tenets. Many people may try to sidestep their negative feelings or thoughts through avoidance or denial via unhealthy coping mechanisms, which often end up being destructive in the long run. Mindfulness means focusing on these thoughts and feelings which eventually reduces the distress they cause. Acceptance allows a person to be content to move on to what they must do next, leaving behind blame, denial, and criticism, all of which will continue to cause harm.
Acceptance does not mean giving up. But rather, when nothing can be done to affect any change (for past incidents or future inevitabilities), people must recognize there is nothing helpful that can come from not moving beyond such things. While lessons should be learned from the past, dwelling over it only prevents you from living your happiest life, as does unnecessarily worrying about the future (or being negative about the future). Living in the present by practicing mindfulness acceptance will lead to overall well-being.
Participants should close their eyes and be present in their thoughts, perhaps by saying or labeling what they are thinking. The experience of any thought, feeling, or sensation changes once it is accepted, or acknowledged. The reason for acknowledging these sensations is not to get rid of them, but rather to have the intention of not trying to change them at all. They should try to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings, examining each one with neutrality. Telling oneself that all emotions have a place and that it is normal to feel them is an important aspect of this exercise.
James Novello states that this may be one of the most difficult aspects of mindfulness, but it is necessary to avoid judging thoughts and feelings. Many people are dismayed because they are having negative thoughts, from an experience or even from failed attempts at meditation. Mindfulness enables a person to separate themselves from their feelings and look at those feelings objectively. It can also involve forgiving oneself for having negative thoughts in the first place. And once again, acknowledging the thoughts will result in a change of the experience.
One of the easiest ways to begin practicing mindful meditation is to go on YouTube or access another online source of recordings and participate in guided mindfulness sessions such as body scan meditation, sitting meditation, or walking meditation. These videos and audio recordings are an excellent introduction and can help teach a person how to relax and accept their feelings at that moment. Some people are not suited to follow a book or printed guide particularly during times of stress — YouTube is an excellent tool.
Mindfulness in Daily Life
After a person has become familiar with mindfulness, they can apply it in their daily lives, not just while meditating. They can practice simple mindfulness exercises anywhere, even if only for a couple minutes. People can also use mindfulness in stressful situations in order to avoid what Buddha called the “second arrow,” the struggle and emotional hurt that follows a negative event. Observing and accepting all thoughts and feelings becomes essential.
Mindfulness can help a person achieve better balance, happiness, and well-being in all aspects of life. Practicing these principles can help people accept life on all levels, leading to stress relief, a natural cure for depression and anxiety, and greater self-esteem.
Healthy Habits for Living Your Best Life
Mindfulness is one of many important tools in an overall plan to achieve happiness and well-being. Having a positive and grateful attitude takes practice, much like mindfulness, but the results are measurable. The importance of these attitudes is touched upon in religions and ways of living that only recently have been proven effective by studies in neuroscience.
Regular exercise might be one of the most important aspects in order to achieve balance and well-being. Functional strength training as well as a minimum of four 45-minute moderate cardio workouts per week not only increases longevity, but has an astounding effect on the ability to feel good and think well — this type of training actually increases the body’s natural dopamine. Combining this with a healthy hobby, such as endurance competition, will produce results that are unimaginable to some.
Maintaining a healthy diet, and as a result maintaining your physical health, supports all of the components necessary for living a happy stress-free life. A specialized diet such as intermittent fasting and a ketogenic diet further support mental and physical performance and is yet another important foundation proven by science.
Working with others as a community is a final piece to achieving the balance and well-being many seek with mindfulness, and has the ability to decrease stress and promote well-being. Having community is key, and is particularly helpful when working together toward a common positive goal, such as volunteering to help others.
James Novello believes that everyone who experiences stress in their daily lives could benefit from mindfulness as a part of their overall plan for well-being. But even those who don’t experience stress on a daily basis can benefit from this practice. The advantages of mindfulness and healthy habits have the potential to improve anyone’s life and prevent many of the most common medical problems in our society. Imagine a world where everyone adopted these practices — rates of depression, anxiety, obesity and all of its accompanying conditions would likely decrease. What may seem like difficult changes as first will soon become pleasant daily routines.
About James Novello
James Novello was a firefighter paramedic in San Francisco for over a decade, responding to over 25,000 incidents. He has experience with overcoming trauma, stress, alcohol and addiction, which has led him to offer peer support and life coaching to those undergoing similar situations.