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10 Mindfulness Techniques for Designers Feeling Overwhelmed

10 Mindfulness Techniques for Designers Feeling Overwhelmed
Liam McKay April 19, 2024 · 10 min read

Mindfulness is not a new concept, but it has certainly become somewhat trendy or a buzz word in recent years, in part thanks to the large number of mindfulness mobile apps that are now available, and you now have companies that are investing time and money into their employee mindfulness. This is all happening with good reason.
So what actually is mindfulness? The idea is simply to be fully present in the moment in order to be more aware and in control of your own thoughts, feelings, and attention. Instead of putting time and energy into worrying about negative things in our life that we might not be able to control, we can instead choose to focus on the reality of what is actually happening around us right this moment.
According to Martyn Newman who literally wrote the book on it, mindfulness is “the skill of paying close attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, non-judgmentally and with an attitude of curiosity and openness.â€
It sounds easy, but with the pace that many of us speed through our days it’s always worth remembering that there are things we can be doing to help improve our overall, health, mood and mental wellbeing.
Many people are familiar with the idea of meditation. The idea is similar, so you can think of mindfulness as the lasting effects or the long term goal of mediation. The hope is that by taking time to be present and aware in more situations you can train yourself to not run through life on autopilot and you will begin to see life from a new perspective.
There are studies out there that support the idea of mindfulness, so it’s not all just buzz. However, as with anything, this will have a better impact on some individuals than it will with others. To help with this there is something called the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) which will allow you to keep track of your own mindfulness. The higher your score, the better your ability to be mindful is.
Let’s explore some techniques around this idea that we as designers can easily work into our workday. Thankfully, the actions that can help us become more mindful are just as simple as the concept itself.

Listen to Music. Really Listen.

Many people of course like to listen to music while they work. Music can be a great soundtrack to your workday, but just having some music on won’t help you when it comes to mindfulness. Instead, try taking a moment away from work to just sit there and listen to your music for a little while, really listen to it. Perhaps close your eyes and try to focus on the individual notes, feel the beat, pay particular attention to the lyrics, and feel every emotion that surfaces as a result. Taking this brief time to focus entirely on the music and nothing else can help you enter a mindful state.

Five Senses Exercise

The Five Senses exercise really highlights beautifully the point of mindfulness, if you’re still not sure about what we are looking to achieve with these techniques, this should help you to understand. For this exercise, simply stop where you are and what you are doing, and do the following:
Notice five things that you can see – look for things directly around you that you might not otherwise notice, however mundane. It could be a lightbulb, a shadow on the wall, the pattern of your floor. Any 5 things, and focus just on this.
Notice four things you can feel – what can you fell that is directly around you? Do you notice a breeze, is it currently hot, what can you touch around you? Simply notice how 4 things feel around you.
Notice three things you can hear – what noises are around you that you might be trying to ignore? Listen to them, pay attention to what is making the noise. Pick our three noises, or look at adding your own little noises to the mix.
Notice two things you can smell – pay attention to what smells you have around you, good or bad. Pick out two smells, or hunt down two things with a scent and pay particular attention to those smells for a brief moment.
Notice one thing you can taste – either find something to sip, nibble, or chew. Slow it down, eat slower than you’ve ever eaten before, think about the texture, the chewiness, anything at all and savor every bite. Or simply take in a breath of air and think about the taste going on in your own mouth. Anything to make you briefly think about nothing but a taste.
The exercise here is simply giving you a reason to focus entirely on one thing at a time, free of all other distractions while putting you at the center of your own environment.

Eat at Lunchtime

Crazy idea right? Eating at lunchtime… But how often do you actually just sit down at lunch to eat, and nothing else? I’m willing to bet that most of us do lots of other things on our lunch break, like playing on our phones, watching a video, or scrolling through our feeds. Eating then becomes a secondary task that just happens along the way and your mind stays busy. Instead, from time to time, allow yourself to just sit there and enjoy your food without anything else going on. Pay close attention to what you are eating, take it slow, and enjoy every bite. Take time to think about where your food actually came from, and how it was prepared as you eat.

Note Your ´Small Wins’ and Big Achievements

Keep a log of things you’ve done that you are proud of as you work. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Just write something down that you are happy with and take time to enjoy and celebrate those in a small way. Work can be hectic sometimes and sometimes it’s easy to forget how much progress you’ve made as we’re always moving on to the next task, and the one after and so on. But take time to appreciate the good that you’ve done by simply listing any small victory, completed task or big achievement that comes your way and reflect on these as a way to remind you of your own personal and professional growth.

Mix Up Your Routine

Anything you can do to mix up your ´usual’ day would be a great way to observe your environment in a new way. Simply sitting in a different chair, or taking your laptop to work at a cafe for a while, maybe even taking a new route to work or going somewhere different for lunch – while paying attention to all the new things you see, hear and smell throughout. Anything you can do in a day to avoid that sense of over-familiarity will benefit you, so get creative and make every day something new in any small way you can.

Deep Breathing

I’m sure you were all expecting this one to feature somewhere, but the truth is that deep breathing truly is an effective way to de-stress and become more self-aware. According to Headspace, “studies show that breathing exercises can actually improve cognitive function, encourage positive thought processes, and reduce symptoms of anxiety.†Here’s a wonderful video that will help you to focus fully on your breathing for a minute.

Stretch, Walk, Run, and Move

Most of these techniques focus on the mental aspect, but staying in tune with your body is just as important. Take time to move throughout the day, and do so with your full attention on each step, each heartbeat or each breath. Notice things about your body that you didn’t notice before, and learn how your body feels. This will help you to both find mindfulness and recognize the needs of your own body which together will prevent you from getting overwhelmed at work.

Learn Your Limits

As you work on your awareness, you’ll have a better grasp of your own limits. As an example, you’ll start to notice how much time things actually take and you’ll be able to value your own time and ensure that you give yourself proper time to get projects done at a more realistic pace. Having the confidence to communicate a more realistic timeline to co-workers and clients based on your own limits will help prevent you from feeling overwhelmed further on down the line. Giving yourself time to take wellness breaks will undoubtedly help to avoid burnout or creative block too.

Mindful Drawing

Draw without judgment, draw for no reason, and draw anything you want. Just draw and focus on the sensations that you notice and the way your pencil interacts with the paper, don’t focus too much on what you are actually drawing. Grab some paper, some crayons, or get yourself a coloring book and unleash a rainbow of stress-relief. If you’re bad at drawing, good! If you are good at drawing, don’t be.

Find Time to Stay Mindful

The hardest part of all of this is simply remembering to stay mindful. Once you’ve found something that works for you on this list you need to recognize when you should be doing these techniques throughout your day. Naturally, our minds tend to wander, which isn’t always bad, but often this can lead us to think about negative things, our anxieties, worries, and fears can surface and we can spend portions of our day worrying about this, or even stuck in our autopilot routine which can put our brains into low energy mode. If you want to get the best work out of yourself, you need to break this routine and try some of these techniques to stay aware and present. Find everyday events in your life that you can use as a trigger to remind you to practice mindfulness.

Further Reading on Mindfulness

If you are looking to make this concept more of a part of your daily life there are lots of great resources out there that can help. Here’s a quick selection of a few destinations you can hit if you want to explore mindfulness further:

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About the Author
Liam McKay

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