After more than a decade researching the health applications of mindfulness, I’ve seen firsthand the power it has to help people overcome some of the toughest habits to break like smoking cigarettes, emotional eating, and constant worrying. But this exposure practice hits even closer to home than my ongoing studies; over the last 20 years, mindfulness practices have helped me lessen my own stress and cope with panic attacks in my most trying times.
So, what is mindfulness? The definition I use most frequently, put forward by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is “the practice of paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, nonjudgmentally.” Sounds simple enough, right?
Even this basic concept is surrounded by myths and misunderstanding. In fact, one of the biggest misconceptions is illustrated by a question I’m often asked: How do I get rid of my thoughts? Mindfulness is not about stopping our thoughts or feelings; it’s about changing our relationship to those thoughts and feelings.
I believe the practice of mindfulness can enable everyone to live better, which is why I am excited about the newest addition to Sharecare’s suite of mental wellness solutions: Unwinding by Sharecare.
Unwinding isn’t a meditation app but serves as a roadmap to help you no matter where you are in your mental well-being journey. The DNA of the app is based on my clinical research into how habits are formed and how the worst ones can be broken. Unwinding helps you better understand how your mind works, so that you can work with your mind — it gives you tools and easy strategies to reduce everyday stress, build healthier habits and increase your mental well-being.
Most people don’t have hours to spend meditating or in mindful contemplation, but the team in my lab has found that short moments throughout the day can still measurably reduce stress and anxiety. You can think of these as “short mindful moments, many times.” That’s how you build the habit of awareness, curiosity, and kindness. To capitalize on this benefit, Unwinding delivers one- or five-minute mindfulness exercises that you can repeat whenever it’s convenient for you.
We also filled Unwinding with some of my favorite grounding exercises, like five-finger breathing, which helps “reboot” your brain when you are stressed, so you can find a sense calm and stay present. There also is a visual relaxation library featuring award-winning videos from Sharecare Windows, helping you take virtual getaways instantly to find peace no matter where you are.
When you have more time and want to explore a specific habit, Unwinding by Sharecare also features mini-master classes on areas of your everyday well-being that are often triggered or worsened by stress such as anger, procrastination, and emotional eating. As an example, one of our courses takes a dive into one of the most common sources of worry: money. We teamed up with our friends at Mint, an Intuit personal finance app, to help people understand the underlying causes of their financial stress and how they can change their behaviors.
It’s important to remember that changing habits is hard work, but it doesn’t have to be painful. My hope for this app as a complement to our comprehensive suite of tools is that it helps you enjoy the compounding benefits of mental well-being, putting your happiest and healthiest life within reach.