Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Mind over matters: how mindfulness can help

In today’s busy society, with an ever growing to-do list and 24-hour social media, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed from time to time. And when things do start to get on top of us, feelings can quickly escalate so that we lose sight of what’s really important to us.

We can’t slow society down, much as we’d like to, but what we can do is share two tried and tested mindfulness behaviours that will – in no time at all – retrain your brain to stay focused, so that you’ll be better able to gain perspective and regain control during stressful life-episodes.

So what exactly is mindfulness? Simply put, it’s about paying attention. Its basis lies in Buddhist meditation. Today’s mindfulness practice has been modified to reflect modern society and the need to build mindfulness techniques into our everyday routines.

The good news is, that with practice, mindfulness is a skill that anyone can learn. The even better news is that studies show that we can change our habits and behaviours in just eight weeks. 

If you answer yes to these questions, these two mindfulness techniques could benefit you:
  • Have you ever found your mind wondering?
  • Do you anticipate the end of conversations half way through? 
  • Are you worrying about ramifications before you really know what the problem is?
Mindfulness helps to bring you back to the present – in touch with yourself, other people and what’s going on around you. This process, in time, improves mental and emotional wellbeing, helping us to enjoy life more and understand ourselves better.

Technique one: present in sixty seconds

Pick a regular time in the day to spend just sixty sessions being totally aware of what’s going on around you. It could be before you set off on your way to work in the morning; after getting home from the school run; or while taking a short stroll at lunchtime. Sit – or stand – and breathe. That’s it. In and out, calm and steady. Use all your senses to take in what’s around you: What do you see? What can you smell? What can you hear? Be aware of how your body feels and how it relaxes with the simple practice of breathing. As you breathe out, let a smile form on your face. If it helps, place your hands on your abdomen so you can feel your breathing motion. When your sixty seconds are up, continue with your day as normal.

Technique two: something new

Although we don’t often realise it, our bodies work on autopilot for a good proportion of the day. Do you wander into a room and wonder how you got there? Do you grab three breakfast bowls without thinking? Brushing teeth, driving a car – all done without real thought or examination. To keep mindful, take time to try something new. Your senses will be heightened and you will be more aware of what’s around you. We’re not talking big stuff here – sit in a different seat, try something new for lunch, pick up your cup with your non-dominant hand. Go on, try it and see what a difference it can make to how you feel the rest of the day.

What difference does it make?

At this point, you may questioning the significance of these simple techniques. It sounds too easy, doesn’t it? The psychological benefits of mindfulness have been well noted for years - with techniques like these having been proven to help with stress, anxiety, depression and addictive behaviours. Now, the medical benefits are being noticed by health care professionals too, with mindful practices being seen to have a positive effect on physical problems like high blood pressure, heart disease and chronic pain.

So little to lose and lots to gain! What’s stopping you?

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