What is Mindfulness?
I, like a lot of people, have had to find various ways of coping and thriving in a world that can seem full of anxiety, sadness, fear and threat. Many times when we are the victims of trauma, or even just when we are taken in with the busyness of everyday life , we can feel overwhelmed and develop coping mechanisms that may not be benefiting us in the long term.
Coping mechanisms could include, but are not restricted to, drinking, taking drugs, binge watching television, eating until uncomfortable, restricting food and dieting, scrolling through social media apps, procrastinating, obsessing over cleaning, over exercising- you get the picture.
One of the ways to heal from this constant feeling of anxiety and overwhelm, and a way of finding a positive coping mechanism so you are less reliant on coping mechanisms that may be doing you more harm than good is to practice Mindfulness.
Firstly, before we go into the basics of what Mindfulness is, remember to be compassionate towards yourself.
Every coping mechanism you use, no matter how good or bad you may think it is, has enabled you to keep going through a difficult time, has enabled you to get through a traumatic experience or has kept your ahead above water when you were sinking in overwhelm. We all do things that may not be the best for us in the long run, to cope with stressful times.
The process of healing is not an excuse to beat yourself up about any coping strategies you have used in the past or are currently using, it is merely a way of recognising and acknowledging your pain and struggles and finding more useful ways and strategies of coping when life gets tough.
When we realise that the coping mechanism of choice we are using is no longer helping us, but causing us further harm, its time to try and find new ways of coping.
So, one of these coping strategies we can use is Mindfulness.
So, what is Mindfulness?
In short, mindfulness is the practice of focusing all your attention on the present moment.
That is it.
This may seem like a very simple task, but in reality, in today’s busy 24/7 world we are rarely focusing on and experiencing the current moment.
See the image below. What do you notice about the two characters in this picture? Both the human and the dog are going for a walk together and are living in the exact same moment.
But the human and the dog are not experiencing the same moment. Lets take the image of the human. Their thought bubble represents what is going on in their mind on their walk with the dog. In this image we can see that their mind is full with thoughts, emotions, problems, to do lists- you name it they are worrying about it.
This image shows us what we are like most of the time. The human is not in the present moment, they are thinking about their past and they are worrying about their future instead of focusing on the moment right in front of them. This act of living in the past or future only serves to increase their stress and anxiety, none of the things that they are thinking about are happening at that moment, but their body is reacting to the stress and worry they are creating in their head, not to the calm peaceful moment they are in reality living in.
The dog on the other hand is focused purely on what is in front of them. The dog is living in the moment and is experiencing only the emotions that the exact moment they are in are causing- calm, peace and happiness. The dog is living Mindfully.
So what are the benefits of Mindfulness?
There are many proven benefits to practising mindfulness.
Here is a list of but a few ways that practising mindfulness can improve your life:
helps you to cope with stress
- Being mindful makes it easier to savour the pleasures in life as they occur
- it helps you become fully engaged in activities
- it allows you to deal with negative events more effectively
- it makes you less likely to get caught up in worries about the future
- it makes you less likely to regret the past
- it makes you less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem
- mindfulness enables you to form deep connections with others.
- It can also help treat heart disease
- lower blood pressure
- reduce chronic pain
- improve sleep
- alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
- Reduce depression
- Reduce substance abuse
- Help eating disorder recovery
- Help solve couples’ conflicts
- Help treat anxiety disorders
- Help manage obsessive-compulsive disorder
So how do I practice mindfulness?
There are many ways to practice mindfulness and over the next few weeks I will be discussing in more depth some techniques and activities you can use in your everyday life to create a mindfulness practice that works for you.
But in its basic form practising mindfulness is merely intentionally bringing your attention back to the present moment, and getting away from living in your thoughts. You can do this by meditating, Focusing on your breath, focusing on the sounds around you, or the smells and sensations around you or by becoming totally engrossed in an activity like walking, cleaning, colouring or gardening where your focus is entirely on the task at hand instead of your thoughts about the past and future.
To get you started here is a basic mindfulness meditation to try at home:
- Sit comfortably on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor. If you are unable to do this you can lie down propped up with pillows.
- Focus on your breathing. You could focus on the feeling of air flowing into your nostrils and out of your mouth, or you could focus on your belly rising and falling as you inhale and exhale.
- Once you’ve narrowed your concentration in this way, begin to widen your focus. Become aware of sounds, sensations, and your ideas.
- Embrace and consider each thought or sensation without judging it good or bad. Just notice it and let it drift on. Realise you are not your thoughts, you are the thinker of your thoughts. If your mind starts to race and wander off to the past or future, return your focus to your breathing. If it helps you can count your breaths on a cycle of 1-10 and begin again as many times as you need.
Keep tuned to R R and J for more mindfulness activities and information over the next few weeks. And remember to be compassionate towards yourself, this is a practice, even if you can only focus for a few moments at a time that is Ok, with time and practice the length of time you can focus on the present moment will grow.
Try some mindfulness meditation this week. Did it help you feel calmer? Let me know in the comments below.