In a recent survey of 2,000 British adults it has been reported that 29% of them are stressed, 24% suffer from anxiety and 17% experience signs of depression. Stress related illnesses are on the increase as more and more people struggle with pressures from work or to achieve a healthy work-life balance. One of the suggested solutions to this problem is something called mindfulness. The survey, which was conducted by YouGov and the Mental Health Foundation, also revealed that the majority of those questioned had never heard of the term mindfulness before, but would be open to try it if they knew that it would reduce their stress levels.
So, what exactly is mindfulness?
Its origins are based in Buddhism and the ancient practice of meditation. Nowadays, the principles are pretty much the same, in that it is a form of therapy aimed at increasing a person’s awareness of themselves. This can be achieved through meditation, yoga and breathing exercises. Mindfulness allows a person to take themselves away from the chaos of everyday life and focus on their emotions and the environment around them. It is a way of clearing the mind, relaxing and increasing positive thoughts. Mark Williams, who is professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, describes mindfulness as an ‘antidote to the tunnel vision’ we have developed in modern life and by training ourselves to be more mindful it can help us to enjoy the world and therefore make us happier. Although, it may have started of as a religious practice, it is very much not the case today and you certainly don’t need to be religious or spiritual in order to train yourself to be more mindful.
Training yourself in the art of mindfulness is not easy and does require you to take your time and build up slowly. There are different ways of practising; some people prefer doing it alone, whereas others need the guidance of a group or even a one-to-one trained practitioner. Do your research, as there are many online course, audiobooks, You Tube videos as well as local classes, and it is up to you to decide what will work best for you and your circumstances.
Here are some simple ways in which you can start to train yourself to be more mindful in your everyday life:
Taking some time out for yourself to just relax and do nothing is, I am sure, way down on the bottom of your to do list, but it is just as important as, for instance, doing the housework or sorting the bills. Allow yourself 20 minutes a day to do something for you, for example: take a bath, listen to relaxing music, go for a run, sit out in the garden, read a book. Being able to relax and unwind after a long, stressful day is essential for not only our happiness but also our health and general well being.
You can’t always be the person that says yes all of the time. There is only one of you and realistically you can only do so much, you are not a superhero so please stop trying to act like one. Yes, our lives involve lots of juggling, but why make things harder for you than need be. If you can’t handle the guilt of saying no, then you need to retrain the way your brain thinks. Think of it not as saying no to someone, rather that you are saying yes to yourself. It is worth remembering that the more you say yes to people, the more people come to expect if of you and it is proven that people who occasionally say no are generally happier and feel less overwhelmed than those that always say yes.
It is very easy to switch onto autopilot when we are doing routine activities, such as brushing our teeth or eating a meal. Take advantage of this time and pay more attention to the moment. Try using the opposite hand to hold the toothbrush whilst you brush your teeth, or really concentrate on the smell and sounds your food makes as you eat it. This awareness will draw you more into the moment of what is happening then and there, rather than your mind drifting to thoughts of who you need to send an email to later that day, or whether the bins have been put out for collection.
Do something for you
It is really important for you enjoy quality ‘me’ time to appreciate who you are as a person and to also remember the things that you enjoy doing. Start up a new hobby doing something that you’ve always wanted to do but never allowed yourself the time. It could be as simple as taking the dog out for a walk or baking a cake or even joining an evening class to learn a new language. Take yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will inspire you and promote a positive attitude.
Positive Mental Attitude
Make a list of all the things you’re good at, it’s about time you did a bit of self promotion! Taking the time to remember your strengths and skills can really make you feel good about yourself, so go on, be as big headed as you like.
Love your loved ones
The more you nurture your close relationships, the happier you will be. By spending quality time with those closest to you for example, regular date nights with your partner or meeting up with a friend for coffee, you get to spend more time with those people that make you feel happy. Happiness is incredibly contagious so not only are you feeling this positivity but you are sharing it with your friends and family too.
It is a proven fact that people who take risks are happier and more successful than those who don’t. It all comes down to the feeling of achievement you get when you conquer a fear or do something out of your normal comfort zone. Have the confidence to talk to someone you’ve never met before, what have you got to lose? Worst case scenario, they ignore you – big deal, but best case scenario you walk away with a new friend.
Live in the present
This is a hard one but try to focus on the here and now. It is all too easy for our stressed, active minds to be thinking about the numerous tasks that still need to be done and this results in us never enjoying what is actually happening at that moment. Think of it a bit like looking at life through a camera lens. Sometimes, you need to come out from behind that lens and look at what is in front of you with your own eyes to fully appreciate the beauty and wonder of the world.
Step away from your phone, your laptop, your emails, the TV, social media and reconnect with the real world. More and more people spend a higher proportion of their day focused on digital media that has been proven to increase levels of stress and anxiety. Set yourself a ban on all things digital for a set time throughout the day and gradually increase this to ensure you are enjoying quality time with real people. Simple rules such as no phones at the dinner table or no TV in bed will help nurture relationships and raise happiness levels.
The great outdoors
So simple, but oh so effective, get yourself outside and breathe in some fresh air. Whether you go for a walk, eat your meals outside or sit in the garden with a good book, fresh air is great for clearing the mind and improving your psychological wellbeing.
Setting yourself goals and listing things you want to achieve is a great way of motivating you and upping your positivity levels. Remember to include how you are going to set about achieving the things on your list and update yourself on any progress you make in order to gain a sense of fulfilment and pride in yourself.
Marsha Lucas, Ph.D, psychologist and author of ‘Rewire Your Brain for Love’, states “Mindfulness isn’t a luxury, it’s a practice that trains your brain to be more efficient and better integrated, with less distractibility and improved focus. It minimizes stress and even helps you become your best self. Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”.
To learn more about mindfulness and for more information about training yourself to be more mindful visit www.bemindful.co.uk