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Good mental health via mindfulness.

We all know that good mental health is so important, especially in today's world which seems so full of worries and stress. We know that anxiety and depression can creep up on us before we know it. But how do we find easy solutions to stress less, and feel mentally healthier? The answer is, mindfulness!

What mindfulness means

Mindfulness is a form of meditation in which you focus on being fully aware of the present moment. This can help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

Have you ever had the experience of driving home and suddenly realising you can't remember the last certain amount of the drive? Your car is fine and you're pretty sure you didn't run someone off the road, but you're not entirely sure if you were speeding or ran a red light. It's a really horrible place to be - and that's the opposite of mindfulness. You're so overloaded by thoughts of what you've left behind at work and what you need to do once you arrive home that you've stopped paying attention to the moment - the drive in-between.

Mindfulness is letting go of memories and thoughts of everything outside your present moment. If you are sitting reading this on your phone then give it a shot:

  1. Close your eyes - after you read these steps of course - and take a deep breath or two

  2. Focus on what you're hearing - both close and loud, but also distant. Focus on what each sound is, and what thoughts they bring.

  3. Now do the same with sensation - what your hands are feeling, your feet, the sensation of your clothes on your body, air on your face.

  4. Now open your eyes and do the same, notice what's around you.

It can last a few seconds or far longer, but that's mindfulness. Being very present in this moment. Our dog Mancha is the perfect teacher when it comes to mindfulness.

Why mindfulness matters

Mindfulness can help you to control and manage stress, depression, anxiety, chronic pain and high blood pressure, amongst other things. It can also improve your sleep and help you to focus better. There are a number of health benefits to it, and it's free! If you're interested in the science of it then feel free to Google, or check out some of the links we've placed below.

And whilst being mindful is good for you, letting our thoughts run rampant has the exact opposite impact - New Scientist reports this week that research has shown why 'hard thinking' leaves us exhausted. The chemical Glutamate can build up in our brains, potentially becoming harmful to us.

How to be mindful

There are many approaches to being mindful, and that's a huge bonus. It means you can practice mindfulness in almost anything, from eating to reading and walking in the rain. But to get you started, here are a few simple mindful activities you can try:

  • Mindful eating Pick one thing to eat. It can be as small as a raisin or a nut, or it might be an apple or a piece of chocolate - just don't make it something big like a meal. First, spend a moment paying full attention to the look of it, focus in, and study it from different angles. take your time. Next, take a moment to enjoy the scent, if there is some. After that, another moment to notice and explore the texture of it; use your fingers to feel it, but also your lips to touch it, notice the heat or cold, the surface, whether it's soft or firm. Finally, slowly, place it in your mouth (or take a bite) and take your time. Notice the first feel of it, the first taste, the sensation against your tongue, the feel against your teeth. Whether it melts or crunches, chew for a moment and explore all the sensations it offers before you swallow. Then, notice how your mouth feels after, any sensations, scents, or flavours it leaves behind. For a few moments, even something as small as a raisin can fill you with joy. Now imagine if every moment in life could be savoured as much!

  • Mindful walking This is something that you can practice even in a tiny space. Pick somewhere to walk, it can be as small as a few steps, or as long as a driveway - but as with the eating exercise, don't make it an entire walk around the lake. First, stand, and take a moment to notice your body, and how it feels. How your feet feel in your socks or shoes, how your balance shifts. Just spend a moment before you start noticing how your body feels, and what information it's feeding to you. Now, take one step, and similarly notice how your body moves, and what it's encountering. Notice the view as it changes slightly, the sun as it falls around you, or the shadows as they shift. With each step, also notice your breathing, and your heartbeat, and take slow and deliberate breaths as you move. When you reach the end of the walk, no matter how small, pause. Slowly turn, noticing the feel of your body and your shifting view. Stop for a moment, soak up all the sensations you're feeling, the thoughts that might be moving through you. Take a breath, hold it. Now, return, and repeat as much as you need to. Be aware that this is not a power walk or a physical exercise activity, it's the opposite; it is about savouring every aspect of a few tiny steps and being fully present for them. You'll also find however that the next time you do go for a walk around the lake, the full bore of all those sensations will be far more present for you.

  • Mindful sitting If you can't walk, hopefully, you've got time and the ability to sit for a moment. Sit comfortably with your back against the chair, and place your hands in your lap or on the chair's arms so that you're comfortable and relaxed (but not slouched). Now, take a slow and deep breath, and then start to focus on your breathing. Once you've focused on this for a moment or two, turn your focus to your thoughts. As you notice each thought, let it go and move on to the next. You may find yourself focusing on one or two, and that's fine, but try not to linger too long and let them go. Now, turn your focus outward. Notice the sounds around you, both close and distant. For each, try to name it, and then move on. Don't judge them, just note them. Then move on to the sights around you. Notice the objects, but also the light, notice the colours and shades, the movement of shadows as the curtains move in the breeze. Take your time, don't catalog it but pause for a moment on anything that calls to you or pulls your attention. Just those things you can easily see, don't turn your head. Notice their beauty or usefulness, or any other thoughts they bring to mind. Then, move on.

  • Mindful body check-in This is a little similar to the sitting activity but is more about your body than the room. Sit as in the previous example, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. Take a few slow breaths in and out, noticing how it feels, to center you. Now start with your feet. Notice how they are feeling, their position on the ground, the feeling in your toes, and the sensation of socks or shoes you might be wearing. Spend a moment noticing everything they are feeling; warm or cold, any aches or pains. Once you've done that move up to your lower legs and do the same. Then, your upper legs, your hips, and rear, your stomach, chest, neck, head, then arms and hands. Spend a moment on each, and really listen to your body. Then, once you're done, return to your breathing, focus on it for a moment or two, and then open your eyes. As an added bonus there is a version of the body check-in that can be used to relax your muscles. You perform the same focus on your body, but at each stage, once you have spent that moment focusing on that part you tense all your muscles in that part, as hard as you can, for perhaps 20 to 30 seconds. Imagine that part of you focusing all the stress you might be feeling, any negative emotion. Then, relax and let go. Imagine all the stress evaporating away from you. Then do the same with each body part. Believe me, it's incredibly relaxing.

That is absolutely not an exhaustive list, but it will give you a start point, at least.

Some quick tips

To help you get to grips with mindfulness, here are three easy points to remember:

  1. Be patient: it can take some time until mindfulness feels natural. You don't go to the gym and expect a perfect routine on day 1, you work up to it a little at a time. Take the same approach with mindfulness. Don't try too hard either, you won't become an expert overnight, just let your awareness grow one step at a time. You'll make mistakes too, but just accept that's a part of the process.

  2. Don't judge: it's not about thinking good thoughts, but about being aware of what's going on, whatever that is. Whatever your thoughts or feelings, accept them, don't judge them. If you find you are judging yourself or berating yourself - then note that, be aware of it, and calmly continue on. Accept what's going on for you, whatever it is.

  3. Let go: you may find yourself wanting to hold on to good thoughts or feelings, focus on them. Or you may find yourself constantly drawn to negative thoughts or emotions. Either way, try to let them go. Minds are like rivers, they might look the same from moment to moment but their content changes by the second. Allow that to happen.

And another top tip; there are many great apps out there to help with mindfulness. If you feel that's the way to go then go looking and arm yourself with a tool to support your experience.

Looking for the science?

That's okay, I'm the same - I like to know there is scientific evidence when someone says something works. So, here are some links to evidence mindfulness works well:

Follow the science - it works!

Take care of yourselves, and each other.


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