Mindfulness and mental health

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is simply the ability to stay within the present. When feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious (and especially if these feelings are reoccurring) it can help to reestablish where, who and how you are in the present moment.  By improving your awareness of thoughts and feelings, you are less likely to become overwhelmed by them, and therefore are more manageable.

Most notably, mindfulness aims for these things in particular:

  • Observing with your senses
  • Describing what you notice with adjectives
  • Participating fully
  • Being non-judgemental
  • Focusing on one thing at a time

How does it relate to mental health?

It has been repeatedly suggested by research that practicing mindfulness can be a useful tool to promote a healthy mental wellbeing. Those struggling with depression and low mood in particular may find it beneficial due to what mindfulness targets. For instance, a symptom associated with depression includes rumination. This is the habit of excessively thinking (ruminating) about a situation, such as a conversation you had or an interview you are prepping for. Rumination can help us draw conclusions and move past situations. However, those with depression may repeatedly think about negative situations that they can not move past.

This is where mindfulness comes in! Mindfulness can help an individual with depression think about, interpret and process situations differently by bringing the attention back to the present. By discouraging an individual from focusing and ruminating over negative past events, mindfulness encourages a more positive approach to self-reflection.

How to practice mindfulness?

Daily activities

A really accessible mindfulness task is to be present with your daily activities. For example, when you’re doing the washing up, notice what the bubbles look and feel like. What colours can you see? How does it feel to have the bubbles on your hand? You can use this approach with any daily activity, such as walks, eating and listening to music. You can even watch TV mindfully!

Meditation

Another popular way in which to practice it is through meditation. These are the most commonly used steps in meditation:

  • Set yourself a reasonable amount of time to do the meditation. Around 10 minutes is usually a good place to start. Try to pick a time of the day where you’re not so busy.
  • Get yourself into a comfortable sitting position, preferably in a calm and quiet spot, and close your eyes.
  • Take slow deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth, focusing your thoughts on your breathing. A good breathing pattern to follow is breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 7, and exhale for 8.
  • During the 4-7-8 rule, focus on how these deep breaths make your body feel. For example, notice how your stomach and chest expand on inhale, and deflate on exhale.
  • After a breathing exercising, you can then do what is known as a ‘body scan’. From the top of your head, right down to your toes, you can check into each part of your body, but not necessarily aiming to change it in any way. Are there any parts that feel particularly relaxed or tense?
  • Become aware of your senses. Spend a a minute or two engaging with each of your senses. What can you smell, feel, hear and taste?
  • If your mind wanders throughout these steps, gently bring your thoughts back to your breathing and your body. This will likely happy when you first begin meditating, so don’t beat yourself up when it happens!
  • Let the mind wander. After trying to focus your thoughts, it is sometimes a good idea to let your mind do whatever it wants for 20-30 seconds, before finishing the session by focusing on your breathing again.

Does it work?

There has been research to suggest that exercising mindfulness can be very helpful, and tackle more than one issue. For example both the NHS website and NICE guidelines recommend it as a preventative tactic, especially for those with low mood. It has been suggested to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, discourage rumination, improve sleep and so on. It has also proven to alleviate symptoms relating to chronic pain.

With repeated practice, mindfulness may induce physiological changes within the brain. In particular, it has been implied that it promotes positive changes in certain neural pathways, specifically those involved in attention and decision-making.

Can Brighter Life Therapy help?

We hope the above steps help. If, however, you feel you are struggling and would like professional assistance, we offer this too. Brighter Life Therapy provides fast access to CBT and counselling treatment, which you can read about here. Please do not hesitate to contact us by email info@brighterlifetherapy.co.uk or call 0118 40 50 108.

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