By Kirsty Carroll, Operations Director - Training & Consultancy
In today’s society, it can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice the present moment. Stopping to listen to your own thoughts and feelings, and the world around you, can improve your mental wellbeing. This practice, known as mindfulness, is about knowing exactly what is going on inside and outside of ourselves, moment by moment.
With the ever-increasing demands put on us by both work and personal life, it's so easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and end up living 'in our heads', caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.
Mindfulness means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. It might be something as simple as the feel of the ground underneath our feet as we sit at our desks. When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience new things which we have been taking for granted.
By standing back from our thoughts and emotions in this way, we can start to see their patterns and gradually train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over, realising that thoughts are simply events in our heads that do not have to control us. Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with these feelings more easily.
Personally, I try to practise mindfulness everyday – although I must admit it isn’t always easy. Mindfulness is a little bit like cleaning your teeth or having a shower; although it doesn’t take long, it sometimes feels like a chore, but we do it anyway. I attempt to do 10-30 minutes first thing on a morning once I have pulled myself out of bed, and find that 10 minutes alone is enough to calm and quieten an often overly busy mind.
Some tools I use to help are the app Headspace, which talks you through the mindfulness process, and setting my Fitbit to the ‘relax’ function which guides you through your breathing for two minutes, in which time you can see your heart rate moving to a calmer pace. Since practising mindfulness, I have become much more aware when my concentration is failing or my mind is wandering and am able to refocus on the present moment – a very useful skill when you are in an important meeting!
It is helpful to remember that mindfulness isn't about making negative thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as ‘mental events’. Mindfulness isn't the answer to everything and there is ongoing research around the effectiveness of this practice, but there's already encouraging evidence for its use in health, education, prisons and workplaces.