Mindfulness – what is it, how can it help and when to implement it?

It’s a buzz word that you have undoubtedly heard over the past few years, but what exactly does it mean?

Mind.org defines mindfulness as ‘ the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.’

Whilst there is a lot of hype around the practice, it is actually a quality that each of us already possesses. It is just something that you have to learn to tap in to.

Blocking the world out

In a nutshell, it suggests that the mind is fully focused on what is happening right there and then: to what you’re doing, to the space you’re moving through. This concept does appear rather straight forward, however, the human mind has a habit to wander off topic. Our mind takes flight, we lose touch with our body, and pretty soon we are preoccupied with thoughts about something else. Such as, what has just happened or what has been worrying us. This diverts us away from our feelings in the current moment and returns us back to feelings of anxiety.

Nevertheless, no matter how far we drift away, mindfulness is there to bring us back and hone in on where we are and what we are doing and feeling. If you want to know what mindfulness is, it’s best to try it for a while. Since it’s hard to nail down in words, you will find slight variations in the meaning in books, websites, audio, and video.

Mindfulness and mental health

Becoming more aware of the present, allows individuals to enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.

When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience things afresh, that we may have never been aware of before.

The NHS website confirms that ‘Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience,” says Professor Williams (Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre), “and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.

“This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply ‘mental events’ that do not have to control us.

“Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?’

Such awareness like this also aids us notice signs of stress, depression and anxiety earlier and helps us address them in a more timely manner.

Mindfulness is also a practice recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression for people who have historically had 3 or more bouts of depression in the past.

How to practice it?

Mind has a very helpful list of exercises to help you practice mindfulness, such as: mindful moving, body scan, colouring and meditation. The list can be found here:

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/mindfulness-exercises-tips/

There are so many ways to approach and practice mindfulness, but the overarching opinion appears to be that there are so many benefits of practicing it, that it may be very worthwhile trying the many ways of approaching it.