At its heart, mindfulness is based around the idea of being absolutely present in the moment. This means taking regular time out to listen more to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you. The concept has a long history as part of religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and practices like yoga and meditation.
How does ‘being mindful’ help?
When people suffer from stress, anxiety or are just worried, it is often the result of becoming focussed on negative thoughts that they might be having. This focus can lead to a growing sense of despair and a feeling that these worries are inescapable or cannot be solved. Using mindfulness techniques can help you step back from a problem and prevent you from getting ‘trapped in your head’.
"Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk. All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the 'autopilot' mode we often engage day-to-day, and to give us new perspectives on life." Professor Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.
Underlying all of this is the idea that our conscious and unconscious thoughts help drive our mood, often without us even realising. By becoming more aware of the present moment, we can often enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.
Try it now. Stop reading this article for 1 minute. Close your eyes instead and listen to the sounds around you. Perhaps you feel just a little more relaxed? If so, that’s the power of mindfulness. If not, don’t give up – practice makes perfect. So here are some tips to help you on your way.
How to practice mindfulness
Here are 10 simple steps to get you started.
1. Switch off autopilot, stop day-dreaming and focus on what you are doing – even when doing everyday things like washing-up or cleaning your teeth.
2. Take a regular break. Set an alarm each day, and take some time to practice being mindful.
3. Avoid distractions. Put away your phone. Switch off the TV. And take 15 minutes technology-free.
4. Find a happy place. Find somewhere comfortable and quiet, perhaps outside surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature.
5. Focus on your breath. Listening to your breathing helps distract the mind.
6. Stay in touch with the sights, sounds, smells and tastes you experience at any given moment.
7. Pay attention to the thoughts you have and the feelings they create. Make a mental note of them but then let them go.
8. Stay alert. When you’re walking for example, look around and see what’s happening, watch people and things.
9. Keep trying. Each time it will get easier and the rewards will be greater.
10. Be inspired. Try a mindfulness app to help get you started.
And remember, mindfulness isn’t medically proven and won’t work for everyone – but there are plenty of other ways to help you beat stress, whether it’s related to COVID-19 or anything else.
Reviewed by: Hemal Shah, Lead GP, Livi