Mindfulness provides many physical and psychological benefits. It has started to work its way into therapies for things such as anxiety, stress, depression and chronic pain. It is also becoming well known today as a way to decompress, as an element of yoga, and through meditation. We have all heard of mindfulness, but what does it mean to be mindful?
What it is
The word mindfulness can be used to refer to both the state of being mindful and the daily practices that help to bring it about, such as meditation. Mindfulness is the awareness that results from being able to be fully in the current moment. It is paying attention to what’s going on in and outside yourself, physically and emotionally, instead of going through the day on autopilot.
In this way, you can avoid being caught up in dwelling on the past or worrying about the future and can instead truly experience life as it happens.
Practising mindfulness has benefits to both your psychological and physical health, such as:
- Decreased levels of anxiety and depression
- Improved memory
- Decreased irritability and moodiness
- Increased tolerance to difficult emotions and feelings
- Improved breathing
- Lower heart rate
- Improved ability to manage physical symptoms, such as pain
Mindfulness is simply being aware. There are, however, a few things you can do to practise this awareness daily.
- Focus on the present moment. When practising mindfulness, try to focus on what is happening around you. What is the temperature? What sounds do you hear? What do you see?
- Be fully present. Once you have noticed what is happening around you, focus on what is happening inside you.
- What physical sensations do you feel in your body? What emotions are you feeling?
- Be open. Sometimes, we may try to shut out unpleasant feelings and thoughts. We may not like how they make us feel, or be afraid of not being able to cope with them. Try allowing the thoughts, and think of them only as sensations in the body. See how these sensations unravel as you allow the thoughts in.
- Do not judge. As certain thoughts or feelings arise – whether they be happiness, anxiety, pain or tiredness – do not judge these feelings or thoughts as being good or bad. Feelings cannot be good or bad: they are just experiences. All feelings serve an important purpose, as they signal us to act in certain ways. It is only information.
- Unattach yourself. When noticing thoughts or feelings, instead of saying to yourself “I am anxious”, try saying, “I am having feelings of anxiety”. This helps to think of the feelings as an experience, instead of defining you.
- Start small. When working on practising mindfulness, it is not necessary to sit and meditate for half an hour at a time to see benefits. Spend just a couple of minutes practising the things listed above. Remember, the more you practise, the easier it becomes.
Mindfulness is nothing more than paying attention without judgment. However, this simple action can sometimes feel more difficult than it sounds, especially when we are surrounded by such a busy world. Just remember: it is impossible to fail at being mindful. The moment you make a single effort to increase your awareness, you have succeeded.
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.