Falling awake: Mindfulness and mental health

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Mindfulness is described by a leading teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. We all have the capacity to be mindful, but we may spend a lot of time on ‘autopilot’, carrying out daily activities while our mind is elsewhere. When we are lost in thought in this way, we are far more likely to get trapped in unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving.

Mindfulness can help you to bring your attention back to where you are right now, teaching you to relate to your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you in a calm and accepting way. A particular form of mindfulness, known as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, has been recognised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) as an effective treatment for chronic depression. There are many other proven benefits, including:

  • Improved ability to focus and concentrate
  • Resilience to stress
  • Greater capacity to enjoy and appreciate life from moment to moment
  • Better quality of life for people suffering from pain and illness
  • A more compassionate and understanding attitude towards yourself and others

Try a few mindfulness practices – right here, right now!

The Mindful Check-In

Stop what you’re doing, and bring your attention to your body. Gently explore the sensations as they come and go. If there’s tension, invite it to soften. Notice what’s running through your mind, and the mood that you’re in. Follow your breath for a few moments. Where can you feel it? Is there anything you need to do in order to be more comfortable? Get into the habit of checking in with yourself a couple of times each day.

Mindful eating

Next time you eat a meal, see if you can give it your undivided attention. Look at the colours and textures of the food and how it’s arranged on your plate. Savour the aroma. Really focus on the taste. Notice when your mind is jumping ahead to the next mouthful, and gently return it to the mouthful you’re eating right now

Mindful tasks

We tend to go on autopilot when we’re engaged in familiar tasks. Take something you do every day (having a shower, brushing your teeth, doing the washing-up). Each time you do it, focus as fully as you can on the task. For example, feel the temperature and hear the sound of the water, smell the shower gel, feel the water on your body. Each time your mind wanders, gently bring it back. Notice how many times this happens!

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