The year 2020 marked the beginning of some very challenging times ahead for all of us. Since then most of us have been presented with a unique set of circumstances depending on our individual situations i.e family, work, finances, health etc. However, regardless of the specific circumstances, the universal themes that many of us find ourselves having to grapple with can be summarised as anxiety, worry and a lack of control.
In addition to whatever it is that we have going on in our own private lives, the negative news that we see in the media on a daily basis only serves to exacerbate our sense of overwhelm and having little or no control over our lives.
In these times of what appears to be never ending uncertainty, we owe it to ourselves to familiarise ourselves with the practice of being mindful.
“Mindfulness is the state of being completely focused on the present moment, without dwelling on or reacting to our thoughts. In other words simply being present in everything that we do rather than allowing our minds to wander or become lost in our thoughts about the past or future”
The practice of being mindful helps us to become more self aware and understand that the one thing we do have control of is in deciding how we will personally respond to any situation we are faced with.
Being mindful is a brilliant way of practising self care and improving our overall well being.
“Mindfulness involves stepping back from one’s own strong emotional reactions to life’s challenges, and seeing things more objectively, without getting entangled and swept up in the feelings”
Mindfulness is about being in the present moment and being fully aware of where our mind’s attention is and accepting it without judgement.
Professor Jon Kabat – Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, was instrumental in bringing the practice of mindfulness into mainstream medicine and demonstrated that practising mindfulness can bring improvements in both physical and psychological health.
Some of the benefits of mindfulness include:
- improved well being – By focusing on the here and now, many people who practice mindfulness find themselves less likely to become anxious or overly preoccupied with the past or present.They also find that they are better at forming deep connections with others.
- improved physical health – mindfulness can help relieve stress, treat heart disease,lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep and alleviate gastrointestinal problems.
- improved mental health – psychotherapists are turning to mindfulness as an important feature in the treatment of issues such as depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, conflicts, anxiety and other behavioral disorders. Other benefits include improved memory, clearer focus, better mental processing speed, reduced rumination ( repetitively going over a thought or problem,) improved ability to adapt to stressful situations and better at managing emotions.
“Mindfulness works in part by helping people to accept their experiences, rather than react to them with aversion and avoidance”
Some Mindfulness Techniques:
- Mindfulness Meditation – Find a comfortable sitting position and begin to pay attention to your breathing. Notice the physical sensation of air filling your lungs and then slowly leaving. When your mind wanders ( which it will) Simply notice your thoughts, and bring your attention back to your breathing.
- Body Scan – Pay close attention to the physical sensations throughout your body. Start with your feet and move up through your legs, groin, abdomen, chest, back, shoulders, arms, hands, neck, and face. Spend between 30 seconds and to 1 minute on each body part.
- Mindfulness Walk – While walking, make a point to practice mindfulness. Start by noticing how your body moves and feels with each step. Then, expand your awareness to your surroundings. What do you see? hear? smell? feel? This technique can also be extended to other daily activities i.e mindful eating.
- Five Senses – Make a conscious effort to be present through each of your senses. Notice 5 things you see, 4 things you feel, 3 things you hear, 1 thing you taste, 1 thing you smell.
During a state of mindfulness, you will notice your thoughts, feelings and any physical sensations. The goal is not to clear your mind or stop thinking, it’s to become aware of your thoughts and feelings, rather than get lost in them. The thoughts feelings and sensations that you notice should be observed in a non judgmental manner. For example if you notice a feeling of sadness, simply state to yourself: “I notice that I am feeling sad”. There’s no need to further judge or change the feeling.
“Mindfulness is a state of non judgmental awareness of what is happening in the present moment including the awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings and senses”
When we practice mindfulness, we allow ourselves to mindfully detach from our thoughts and feelings and instead to become one who simply observes those sensations without judgement. Mindfulness helps us to make peace with ourselves and to be the watchers of our mind rather than the subject of our thoughts. Through being mindful we are able to see what our brain does out of habit, fear or self preservation.
Mindfulness helps us to pause so that we can choose to do the right thing instead of just doing what we have always done.
“We spend a lot of time judging ourselves harshly for feelings that we had no role in summoning. The only thing you can control is how you handle it” – Dan Harris
Mindfulness is a state of mind, rather than a particular action or exercise. However, without practice, mindfulness is difficult to achieve. Spending too much time in our heads causes stress. We will always have new things that cause us concern. However, when we learn to live in the moment – that is getting out of our heads and becoming more consciously aware of the present moment, – we will inevitably feel happier and experience less stress. With enough practice we can learn to be in better control of our thoughts and feelings.