Active mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your body, mind, surroundings, and emotional state. By being actively mindful, life becomes simpler and easier to navigate—the more practiced you are at active mindfulness, the easier it is to access these tools under duress. That means when life throws stressors your way, being actively mindful allows you to minimize their impact and process your feelings, all while improving communication. This is particularly helpful for your closest relationships, as those are the ones most easily impacted by external factors such as job stress or fatigue.
Research has proven that active mindfulness makes you a better, calmer, happier person—for both you and your partner. These improvements come when you and your partner work at making behavioral changes, improving communication, and building towards a better relationship. Success doesn’t require perfection, simply effort. Effort is everything, as repetition leads to forming positive habits. Through regular practice of active mindfulness, your brain chemistry changes, hard-wiring your ability to actively improve your relationship.
So, how do you achieve active mindfulness? There are many different techniques, and much of it comes down to trial and error regarding what works best for you. The following four techniques are some of the most common—and most effective:
Breathe: Seems easy enough, right? Just breathe. Take a few breaths, or take ten breaths. If you’re stressed and having trouble concentrating, then breathe. If you’re in an argument with your partner, then breathe—in fact, encourage your partner to breathe with you. Taking some time to breathe offers a physiological benefit and a practical benefit. When you breathe, it activates the pathways between the body’s breathing mechanism and the brain’s areas of emotional regulation. From a practical perspective, taking a minute or two to breathe removes you from the immediate situation for a little bit of perspective. In the heat of a contentious battle with your partner, having the awareness to take a moment and breathe can lead back to connection much faster—and probably to a solution as well.
Actively Listen: When arguing with your partner, it’s really easy to think about a response even before they finish what they’re saying. We all fall into this trap, and it takes mindfulness to sense that urge, stop it before it happens, and instead acknowledge what they’re saying before offering your response. Actively listening to your partner, whether in a meaningful conversation or heated argument, does wonders to strengthen your relationship. First of all, it will make your partner feel heard. That type of validation makes everyone feel better. Second, it will also allow your own brain to properly process what your partner is saying, ensuring that you two are on the same page going forward.
Assess Your Current State: Many different things can impact your ability to think clearly and keep your emotions from getting the better of you. Did you get a good night’s sleep? Have you eaten lately? Are you jittery from too much caffeine? All of these factors can impact your mood and your thought process, and that in turn can elevate a simple interaction with your partner into a larger source of irritation. Using active mindfulness, you can understand where your body’s current state is at, and if you have any important topics to discuss with your partner, try to bring your body back into balance before doing so. Similarly, if your partner seems particularly irritable, try to assess their state. Recognizing these things in each other and opening a dialogue about them will strengthen your ability to communicate with each other.
Journal: Journaling is a bit of a lost art form in our modern era of bite-sized social media blasts. This is a shame because it’s one of the most helpful and therapeutic ways to stay mindful of your feelings, your stressors, and your day-to-day life. There’s no right or wrong way to journal, as long as you try to do it with some regularity and simply get the words out there—and the more you do it, the easier it’ll feel. The best part is that modern technology allows us to journal anywhere and everywhere. With smartphones, you can use any number of apps for collecting your own thoughts, from journaling apps to voice recorders. Any method works, as long as you take a moment to reflect on yourself—though if you do go the old-fashioned route of pen and notebook, physically writing things down activates parts of your brain that involve memory and information processing. As you become more self-aware, you’ll be a better communicator. In fact, you can even suggest dedicated journaling time with your partner as a couples’ activity.
Mindfulness Benefits Parenting Too
All of the above techniques improve communication, awareness, and empathy in relationships. They also work directly in parent-child relationships and also deliver a second benefit. When you use active mindfulness during moments with your child, you’ll see the immediate impact in a stronger relationship but you’ll also be modeling this type of self-regulatory behavior for your child. This builds a foundation within them to normalize these techniques themselves and understand their value in friendships and romantic partnerships. Simply put, when you’re actively mindful, everyone wins.