Mindfulness provides us with a mental health toolkit. Being mindful teaches us to live in, and enjoy, the moment, putting aside troubles from the past and not fretting about what lies ahead.
Now more than ever we need mindfulness which works as a strategy to help us cope with crisis. In 2020, there’s been an epidemic in mental health problems. Many of us have felt stressed-out and being stuck inside in lockdown, we’ve been trapped in a worry-loop, preoccupied with money worries and fear of Covid-19.
Many of us in the 21st century live in a heightened state of anxiety, chasing our own tails, unable to relax and enjoy what is happening in the moment, living inside our own heads and failing to notice what is all around us.
Mindfulness isn’t new
Some describe mindfulness as treating yourself more kindly or teaching you to rediscover your joie de vivre. Of course, it’s now a new idea – we’ve all heard the expression “smell the roses” and the concept of enjoying and learning to live in the moment is the basis of ancient Buddhism.
So, what is mindfulness now?
Mindfulness is about focusing on the current moment – being aware of thoughts and feelings – through activities such as meditation, yoga and breathing. Practising mindfulness helps gain insight into your emotions, boosts attention and concentration, and brings countless health benefits.
Mindfulness in action
If you apply it to physical exercise – for example, running – it’s about becoming more aware of your body in the moment, of each step you take, concentrating on your feet and how they feel and focusing on your breath, so you are in the moment, enhancing your enjoyment.
Does mindfulness work?
If mindfulness sounds a bit woo woo – be reassured it is an approach that’s underpinned by a solid basis in scientific research. The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence recommends mindfulness as a way of preventing depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression. Research has shown it as effective as antidepressants.
The benefits of mindfulness in preventing serious depression and emotional distress have been proven by 10 clinical trials, according to the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, based at Oxford University.
Having said that it’s not a one-size-fits-all cure for depression and anxiety in everyone and research is still ongoing into who benefits most from mindfulness.
Be less wired
Also, it’s not just a treatment for people with clinical depression – it can be a useful approach for anyone who is stressed out, rushing around and at risk of burnout as a way of “checking-in” with yourself and what’s going on around you. You don’t have to be stressed or ill to benefit from the strategies it can teach you to live with more appreciation and less anxiety.
- Reconnect with your body and the sensations you experience.
- To make a conscious effort to be aware of the sounds smells and tastes of the present moment – come off auto-pilot in other words.
- Remind yourself to notice your everyday surroundings – sometimes it’s suggested you do this at a set time of day – but it doesn’t have to be sitting cross-legged on the floor – it could be sitting on a train to work or a few minutes sitting in your garden or another quiet place.
- Name your thoughts and feelings – for instance be able to recognise a negative thought – like a cloud in the sky or a bus passing by – without necessarily being affected by it.
How can I learn to be mindful?
Sessions are typically offered in a group situation and last eight weeks and include meditation and breathing exercises and are available through the NHS in some areas. But there are also free online courses that have been scientifically validated.