Some Mindfulness teachers say you shouldn’t talk about your practice because its something other people need to find out for themselves; they’ll come to you if they want advice. So I mostly never mention it. However I was delighted to see that this this years Mental Health Awareness Week topic is Mindfulness. I’ve taken three courses in Mindfulness – two in real life, one online – so its something that I’ve learned a lot about, and something that I practice every day, so I figured now was a good time to talk about it.
Firstly, although I’ve never suffered from mental health problems, I totally advocate mindfulness as a way of life, and I believe beyond all doubt that it can help with mental health conditions. I am naturally a list maker, a worrier and a Busy Person. I was always a few steps ahead of myself – I would have lists of what needed to be done each day and by hell I would fit it all in; I would worry about things I had said or that had happened in the past, about what might happen to me in the future. I would worry about my own death, about family member’s deaths. I would interrupt people so I could get my point across, I rarely saw my family and friends because I had no time to see them. Yet so much of my time was empty – most of it was spent planning for and worrying about things that didn’t matter or might never happen.
I took my first Mindfulness course because I wanted to slow down. I wanted life to stop passing me by.
Think its all new age hokum? Nope, it’s actually been proven to work in the brain. When you’re stressed, the part of your brain known as the amygdala is activated, When you’re mindful though, and focussing on your senses, this activates a part called the insula. Both parts cannot be active at the same time, so when you activate the insula, the amygdala calms down, as does your stress levels.
There’s an assumption that you need to meditate to be mindful. Not true. Meditation is a great habit in itself and it definitely helps, but being mindful is simply paying attention to the present moment. Stop for a minute. Pay attention to the feeling of your breath as it enters and leaves your body. Don’t try to shape the breath, or judge it. Just observe. Consider what emotion you’re feeling, what you’re thinking about, the taste of any food in your mouth, the feel of your clothes against your skin, of the sounds you hear. That’s being mindful. It allows us to step away from the hectic, fast paced lives our minds have created, and get in touch with what’s happening around and within us. It isn’t about fixing or changing anything, its simply about accepting that moment as it is. And it isn’t about changing or stopping your thoughts, its about noticing them and just letting them pass. As soon as you think, ‘oh, I’m having that thought about how I’m going to be so stressed at work tomorrow,’ you’ve acknowledged the thought, and it will disappear without you having to force it out of your head.
And tying in with the theme of the week, here’s how Mindfulness has helped me, and how it could help you too.
I experience things I previously took for granted
I notice small details more, like how things feel, taste and smell. I appreciate tiny moments, like hearing the sea from my bedroom window, and seeing red tulip heads poke through the fence from next door. Things I would never have noticed before because I’d be too busy thinking about stuff, yet often they’re small things that make me smile. I slow down and take more time to appreciate each moment. Before, I would gulp down a mug of tea then move onto the next thing whereas now I sit down (outside when I can) and I make the time to enjoy it. Even just one small habit like that, would make a difference to anyone.
I’m more aware of my thoughts
I see how my thoughts create my reality. I identify the loops and patterns I get caught up in, and ask myself whether this thinking is helping solve the problem or not. Often its not. And its a revelation when you realise that Every. Single. Problem you ever have, relates to your thoughts about it and not to the incident/person/thing itself. Obviously there will always be negative thoughts, but even just being aware of whats caused them and not getting caught up in them is immensely helpful.
When an emotion overwhelms me, its of that time and place
This ties in with the point above, because emotions and thoughts are so intrinsically linked. But rather than just ‘be in a bad mood’, I find it easier now to pinpoint what caused the mood, why I’m in it, and just acknowledge that’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m not judgmental of my moods; if I’m grumpy, I’m grumpy! But just accepting them rather than trying to fight them and pretend I’m positive when I’m not, is much more effective – the moods don’t last as long and they don’t get out of control.
I have more patience
I’ve always a short fuse and it never took much for me to lose my temper. Especially when it comes to technology and fiddly stuff. But this is possibly the area I’ve seen the most improvement. I hardly lose it now at all. Instead, I slow down, breathe and concentrate on what I’m doing. Or walk away for five minutes if need be. I am not perfect so there are occasions when things get to me but on the whole, I wouldn’t even describe myself as impatient any more.
I’m more present when people talk to me
Not that I would rudely ignore people, but often I’d be preoccupied thinking about something I need to do later, or something I need to remember, or something that happened earlier. I stress less about the future and I’m less inclined to go over the past, which means I can be fully present and have a decent conversation with someone. As such, I’ve had much nicer interactions with people and the conversations flow smoother, which as a shy introvert, makes life much easier
I keep things in perspective
Just because one bad thing has happened, it doesn’t mean my whole day is ruined. And just because one area of my life is falling apart, it doesn’t mean my entire life is about to disintegrate. Bad and good things happen all the time, to all people. And it means I’m better at letting things go. This is something I’ve really had to work at, and something I’m still working at, but I’m a lot better at accepting what’s happened, and moving on.
I’m more sure of who I am
I can’t really explain this one, as its a bit abstract, but I just feel more like the person I should be. I have more self-confidence within myself and my self-esteem has definitely improved. I’m more likely to do what I want to do rather than worry about what people think. This is who I am, and as long as I’m happy with myself, that’s all that matters.
I’m more inclined to just get on with stuff, yet less stressed about what needs to be done
My worrying and list-making would frequently leave me stressed, burned out and incapable of anything at all. Now, I just do stuff. And a lot more gets done. Annoying jobs, like the recycling, or a light bulb that needs changed, get done swiftly, rather than when it gets to the needs must stage. And I’m a lot more focused on doing one task at a time. One browser page open. One work task at a time. Things take no longer than they did, but much more gets done and my stress levels are lower than ever. A win all round.
Much calmer. I smile more and think less. I talk slower, I walk slower, I’m not always thinking ahead. I think before I speak. I go with the flow, I do what needs to be done. I plan ahead, but not to the point of military precision. So what if I don’t do any short story writing tonight? I can do a bit extra tomorrow. So what if I don’t clean the bathroom today, even though today is Bathroom Cleaning Day? The dirty bathroom will still be there tomorrow. So what if I have a ton of work stuff to do? I can only do one thing at a time, so lets start with one task and see how it goes.
I could write a longer list that this. I could go on, and on, and on. I guess this isn’t for everyone; some people are laid back and seem to be naturally mindful. I am not. And if you’re not, try it and I guarantee you’ll notice a difference. Not straight away; and indeed you’ll need to force yourself to be mindful at first. But then, you’ll find you do it out of habit, and eventually you’ll realise you’re changing. For the better.
Are you ‘mindful’? Do you think you could benefit from it?