Mindfulness is becoming widely used, or at least talked about in society these days.
It’s not just another ‘fad’.
Mindfulness can be a really powerful tool in assisting you in everyday life, from being more present to less anxious and stressed. There have even been studies that show the benefits of mindfulness being a powerful in breast cancer patients, as well as pregnant women, who are under severe stress. (More on that later!)
As you learn to quiet the mind by bringing mindfulness into your life, distractions lose their power to disrupt your focus and disturb your mind.
It is important to note, that although there is strong evidence to suggest that practising mindfulness has many benefits for those suffering with a mental health problem, it may not work for everyone. There are many ways to help improve your mental health, as well as treatments out there including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Anti-Depressants. Everyone is different and therefore may need different treatments. Mindfulness is a great, natural way to tune into yourself and learn how to control and manage your mind. It takes time and patience, but from personal experience, it is well worth exploring.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is connecting with ourselves, with our bodies and being in the present moment, in such a way that helps us manage our thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness is bringing awareness to the current experience, with curiosity, openness and acceptance.
Being aware that life is happening right now can bring us closer to ourselves and the world we live in. It can provide us with a greater understanding of what and how we are feeling, as well as managing those feelings.
We live in a fast paced world. Technology, social media, working full time, parenting and just adulting in general is not easy. We are all moving so fast, so it is really important to take time to slow things down and take care of yourself. We end up living more in our heads than we do in the present moment, overthinking, over analysing and experiencing sad and repetitive thoughts.
Mindfulness practise can be a really good way to do this, as well as help manage and keep on top of your mental health. Mindfulness isn’t about stopping all the thoughts and feelings that are going on in your head, but about observing them and managing them accordingly.
NHS have a Mood Self-assessment Quiz that based on what GP’s use to determine if someone is feeling low or anxious. This isn’t to diagnose you, but if you are concerned about your mental wellbeing, this could be a step in the right direction, as well as an appointment with your GP for further help and advice.
Benefits of mindfulness
There are many benefits of mindfulness, including decreased stressed, higher relaxation, more control over your thoughts, higher brain function, lowered blood pressure and many more.
Im summary, regular mindfulness practise has been known to help people:
- Manage your thoughts and feelings and mental health
- Pay attention to the present moment
- Provide more insight into your emotions
- Improve attention, concentration and focus
- Improve relationship with yourself and others
- Treat and improve mental health
Benefits of mindfulness on mental health
Mindfulness allows us to deal with everyday stress and anxiety in a more productive and effective way. It equips us to reduce these thoughts and feelings, as well as help decrease levels of depression. Through the practise of mindfulness, we learn how to manage our mind, helping with repetitive, anxious or depression mental states. We are able to observe our thoughts and emotions and eventually train ourselves to understand the patterns and behaviour our ego is succumbed to.
All (or some) of the benefits that can be reaped through practising mindfulness, are all linked to mental health. Things like; anxiety, awareness, concentration, blood pressure, calmness, etc are all things that trigger, or contribute to our mental health and are all things can be positively effected by practising mindfulness.
Studies on mindfulness
Mindfulness has been studied over the last few years, with nothing but strong evidence showing that an individual undertaking regular mindfulness practice has increased activity in the pre-frontal cortex. This part of the brain is known to be less active when someone is depressed and widely associated with positive emotion. Studies, including from Harvard, have also shown that brain wave activity in those who meditate for five or more years are larger in the areas linked to emotional regulation, positively changing your brain structure.
Thus, enabling us to rely more on our executive functioning rather than impulses.
- Just 10 days of using the app can improve overall happiness, health and wellbeing.
- Researchers showed that using headspace improved focus by 14% and significantly decreased mind wandering.
- 10 days of headspace has shown positive effect on kindness, with professionals concluding that it has the ability to improve self compassion and reduce irritability. 3 weeks of headspace reduced aggression by 57%, increased compassion by 23% and reduced aggression by 57%.
- 10 days of headspace reduced stress by 15%.
According to Be Mindful, there is also evidence supporting their Mindful based courses to help people cope with stress and recurring depression.
Be Mindful Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been studied at the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness and they found that people who have experienced more than one episode of depression, have seen positive effects with MBCT, reducing the rate of occurrence by 40-50% over 12 months.
Various other studies
Various other studies have also been conducted, showing compelling results that mindfulness and mindfulness based courses have the ability to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as being just as effective as reducing the recurrence of depression as antidepressants.
Studies by various researchers at Simmons College, Department of Psychology and Duke University Medical Center, have also shown that mindful breathing can have a positive effect on repetitive thoughts.
Basically, there is a tonne of research by professionals, showing just how beneficial mindfulness is for your mental health. So, what have you got to lose? 😉
How to incorporate mindfulness into your life
Mindfulness is the practise of taking notice of your thoughts, emotions, body and the world around you. There are certain exercises that can be used to help you be more mindful, for example, meditation, breathing and yoga. As you learn to quiet the mind by bringing mindfulness into your life, distractions lose their power to disrupt your focus and disturb your mind.
It is also important to note that mindfulness practise takes time and patience. To feel the benefits (and even start seeing some positive results your self) will take some time, with regular practise. Everyone is different and experiencing different things. Be patient and be consistent.
Observe your thoughts (and your ego)
It can be very difficult to practise mindfulness. For some of us, as soon as we put a halt to our busy lives, we see an increase in thoughts and worries and sometimes, we just do not want to open that can of worms.
On the other hand, some of us live with constant thoughts and worries, a mind that does not stop with repetitive thoughts.
Either way, it can be really scary to stop and listen to it all.
As mentioned above, it’s important to note that mindfulness is not about making these negative, worrying or repetitive thoughts go away, but observing them and learning to manage them.
Sitting and listening to thoughts that come and go and learning that they are only mental events in your head, not real life situations, can be the first step into your mindfulness practise.
On top of this, naming your thoughts have been known to help. This show you are recognising what that feeling or thought is (“this is anxiety”). This helps you understand your thoughts better, where they are coming from and one step closer to overcoming them.
Stop and look around
It is really empowering when you start taking time to stop and look around at the world we live in. When walking, or just sitting, take some time to look around at the world. Really look. At the beauty of the trees, the leaves, the colours, the grass, the flowers, the sky, the clouds, the sea. It really is a sensational world we live in.
Taking a moment to look around, be grateful for the opportunity to live and experience all that you can has a huge, positive effect to take your mind off things and take you away from the ‘auto-pilot’ of life. It can be as simple as the air you are breathing in, the food you are consuming or the water you are drinking. It really gives you a new perspective on life and distracts you from the every day worries you are experiencing. It also has the powerful ability of calming you down and providing a great sense of peace and grounding.
Focus on your breathe
This is a truly powerful technique and various studies have backed this up. Your breathe is always with you, so it is a technique you can use anytime, anywhere. Taking even just 5-10 minutes a day (morning and night) or even just in a stressful situation can really help calm you down as well as clear your mind. It also allows you to clear your head and have more control over your reactions.
Take some deep breathes, breathing the air into your tummy. Feel the air going in and then leaving your body. Do this a few times, and as you do, run down your body from head to toe and relax. Relax your head, your neck, your shoulders, your arms. You suddenly realise how tense you are, relax your body and take your mind away from repetitive thoughts.
One of the biggest misconceptions around meditation is the outcome. Many people believe that meditation is getting rid of all your thoughts, being undistracted, chanting ‘om’ and sitting in silence for hours on end. Well, it could potentially be this, but it doesn’t have to be.
Meditation is actually an exploration of the inner workings of our mind and body. It is observing your thoughts, tapping into your senses and exploring our emotions. Meditation asks us to let go of judgement and be patient.
Meditation can be practised in different ways. One common way is to focus on your breathe. Your breath is a physical sensation that is always there, so can be leveraged for mindfulness at any point in time you feel necessary. Here is an example of a short meditation you can implement into your daily routine:
- Sit somewhere with little distractions and get comfy
- Sit up straight, but not stiff or tense
- Take some deep breathes. On the in breathe, let the air go into your tummy (place your hand on your tummy if that helps)
- Do a body scan. From top to bottom, think about the different parts of your body (or even muscles, feel them and relax them.
- Don’t wrestle with your thoughts, observe them and let them pass
- Start observing, listening and smelling the environment and everything around you.
There are also some really great apps and youtube videos that can guide you through a meditation. These are great to use when you are first starting out.
Yoga is also a practise with many misconceptions. Some people believe you have to be religious to practise it, or people believe it is just a bit of stretching. There is so much more to it than that.
Yoga is the practise of bringing awareness to yourself and your breathe, through a range of movements to boost physical and mental wellbeing. Regularly practising yoga can help you break through mental, physical and emotional obstacles.
By linking your breathe to your movements, you are bringing more awareness to your mind and body, observing your thoughts and relieving tension.
Try something new
Simply just changing your routine or trying something new can bring awareness to yourself and the world around you. It provides a different environment to observe and a different perspective.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to cost anything. There are plenty of apps and courses that you can pay for, but there are also so many free apps and resources out there, to help guide you. Even just a simple search on YouTube, you will find hundreds of results. No one needs to be at a disadvantage when it comes to mindfulness.
What does the future of mindfulness look like?
While there are already studies around the benefits of mindfulness for mental health, there is so much potential for the future of mindfulness.
Mindfulness has the ability to help people from all walks of life, no matter what your background, occupations, age, sex, gender, religion, beliefs, mental health. Many institutes such as schools, work places and prisons have started to implement mindfulness and have seen some huge improvements on wellbeing, happiness, productivity, concentration and self-esteem.
Mindfulness in school
The implementation of mindfulness in schools has been positively overwhelming, with the ability to help young people with their levels of stress and anxiety, behaviour, as well as self esteem. In the fast paced world we live in today, it is really important to teach children how to take themselves away from the pressure of technology and social media.
Mindfulness in school projects are being implemented all around the world to help with everyday stress, levels of concentration, behaviour, the pressure of exams and bullying.
Mindfulness in the workplace
Mindfulness in the workplace has recently become a popular movement. Companies like Apple, Google and Nike have all implemented mindfulness practises in the workplace and have had some positive results. In Mindful Work, a book by David Gelles, he shares his results from Aetna, Insurance giant stating that highly stressed employees will cost the company around $2000 more in healthcare than an employee who is less stressed. But after his studies, he concluded that health care costs have decreased now that they offer mindfulness programs.
Mindfulness in the workplace can increase efficiency, productivity, happiness and employee retention. Research in 2012 found that mindfulness in the workplace could be an effective intervention to target “high stress levels, sleep quality, and autonomic balance” (RQ Wolever et al, “Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: a randomised control trial”, 2012).
Mindfulness in prison
Mindfulness courses in prisons are still being tested and developed, but are showing some positive results already. Mindfulness can be implemented into prisons to help people with behaviour, mental health and self control.
It can be and will be a difficult process for some, as not all prisoners may want to participate. But for those who do, can have a real positive effect on their anger and mental health problems, putting them on a path to recovery.
The head of rehabilitation at the national offender management service, Ruth Mann, said that “Early evidence suggests that mindfulness could impact factors linked to reoffending, so we’d like to test whether it can improve outcomes for certain groups of offenders.”
Mindfulness for pregnancy
Being pregnant is not all glowing skin and excitement, it can come with a lot of stress, worry, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness can be a really great way to take a break from all the worries and hormonal changes that life brings you when you are pregnant. Mindfulness can help you stay in control of your thoughts and emotions, and keep on top of your mental health.
Mindfulness for hospital patients
Various studies have shown that mental health problems can have a negative effect on your recovery time post surgery/treatment and mindfulness has the potential to reduce those feelings.
Mindfulness can be a really important practise for hospital patients, before and after surgery. For example, anti-depressants or other medication that may be commonly used to help nerves, stress or anxiety may not be allowed with certain treatments. Mindfulness is a natural way to calm your mind and manage your emotions, decreasing the level of anxiety and stress in patients.
Mindfulness tools and intervention programs would be a great benefit to the wellbeing of many people, from all walks of life and should be a focus of future studies.
Various research studies, as well as personal experiences have shown a strong correlation between mindfulness and positive psychological effects, including increased happiness and wellbeing, cognitive function and concentration as well as reduced anxiety, stress and depression. Mindfulness may not work for everyone, but it’s definitely well worth a try. The inner peace, as well as self-awareness it can bring is truly life changing.
Mindfulness is not a quick fix, but refers to attending to experience with intention and with no judgement. As with anything, it takes time, patience and consistency.
What’s your experience with mindfulness?