How mindfulness and meditation can benefit mental health, according to a psychologist (October 2018)
It’s official – we’re a generation with more on our plates than ever before.
In the workplace alone, around 526,000 of us are suffering from work-related stress, depression or anxiety, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
As our lives becoming increasingly busy, it’s important to take a step back and assess our outlook on life.
The concept of mindfulness – whilst it may get thrown around as trendy buzz word – proves crucial to maintaining mental wellbeing.
Even the NHS encourages mindfulness as an effective way to get people to pay more attention to their own thoughts, feelings and the world around them.
Mindfulness can mean different things to different people – so where are you supposed to start?
We asked psychologist Susan Peacock from mindfulness organisation LiveWorkWell to answer all of our mindfulness questions and give some top tips on how to practice it in our everyday lives:
What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is present moment awareness where you practice bringing your full attention to whatever you are focusing on in that moment,” says Susan.
“That could involve simply being aware of this breath, this step, this mouthful of food – these are all examples of coming into the present moment.”
What is meditation?
Meditation is a means of transforming the mind, encouraging concentration, clarity, emotional positivity and calmness.
Susan elaborates that the practice of meditation involves “carving time out of your busy days to focus on your breath or body.”
She adds: “Research suggests 10 minutes per day to experience the benefits. Obviously, the more you practice the greater the benefit.”
Where did mindful meditation come from?
“Mindfulness developed from ancient contemplative traditions, so has been around for over 2,500 years
“Only in recent years, as neuroscience has indicated its huge benefits, we in the Western World have become increasingly interested in applying mindfulness to our busy lives.”
Can mindfulness help with anxiety and depression?
“Mindfulness has been recommended by the government’s NICE guidelines for depression since 2004.
“It’s also been the treatment of choice for recurrent depression, however it’s not recommended for people who are currently experiencing a bout of depression. If you have questions about mindfulness training, you should discuss it with your GP.”
How does mindfulness change the brain?
Research has suggested that mindfulness can help reduce stress and boost creativity and memory.
“We are in our infancy at understanding our brains and the impact of mindfulness, but we do know that what we repeatedly do has an impact,” says Susan.
“Much of the research has been done in clinical settings, so further research is required in other contexts such as the workplace.
“But given the levels of distraction, complexity and disruption in our daily lives, mindfulness is an invaluable resource to support mental agility and focus.”
I want to become more mindful – where do I start?
“Mindfulness courses are a great place to start. Be Mindful lists mindfulness courses across the UK.
“Other resources such as the Mindfulness Initiative can help you look at how mindfulness can be embedded in society.
“Headspace and Calm are also useful when it comes to kick-starting your meditation.”
How can I be more mindful in my relationships?
“Mindfulness enables you to become more aware of yourself, others and the world around you. You learn to be fully present and connected.
“Many of my clients say how mindfulness has been a game changer professionally as well as in their personal lives, as they realise that giving their full attention is rewarding for the other person but hugely satisfying for them too.”
Are there any mindfulness techniques I can practice at home?
Susan says that when it comes to practising daily mindfulness, there are a few ways to get started:
• Bring your attention to your breathing when you first wake up in the morning before you get out of bed, just notice your breath.
• Notice changes in your posture. Be aware of how your body and mind feel when you get up from your desk or walk outside the office. This will help bring awareness to your transitions.
• Take time to notice taste, texture and smell when eating or drinking. Give thought to where the food has come from and all the connections that have been made before it has made its way to you. Really savour it.
• Notice your body while walking or standing. Feel the air on your face, arms and legs as you walk. Do you need to rush?
• Are you are fully present when you’re about to start a meeting or telephone conversation, or are you still mentally involved in your prior interaction?
How can I practice mindfulness at work?
Practising mindfulness at work is important for taking the stress out of the day in order to work productively and with clarity.
Here are some of Susan’s top tips for staying mindful at work:
• Take a break at lunchtime. Having breaks results in higher, more sustainable performance.
• Hold off from hastily responding to challenging emails. Instead, leave the reply in your draft box and come back to it later when you’re feeling calmer.
• Allow yourself to be fully focused on the task at hand. Multi-tasking is a fallacy and what it actually means is flicking our attention backwards and forwards, increasing the amount of time needed to complete the primary task by 25 per cent.
• Check email intentionally rather than impulsively, perhaps allowing yourself some time in the day when you switch off emails so that you can fully engage in the task at hand.
• Take time to acknowledge something positive during meetings. As a species, we’re susceptible to ‘negativity bias,’ focusing on what’s wrong rather than noticing the good. Try ending the meeting with something that has gone well.
By Georgia Chambers, as published in The Evening Standard on 9th October 2018