Take 10 to calm your mind

OCTOBER 2016 | HEALTH & WELLBEING

Mindfulness isn’t new. Everyone seems to be banging on about it these days. But just in case you haven’t heard. Mindfulness is finding ways to pay more attention; learning to be present in the moment; to be aware of and focused on the here and now. It helps you to develop a mental place of wellbeing where you’ll be better able to just accept your feelings and your thoughts without trying to change or over-analyse them.

The origins of mindfulness go back thousands of years, and you may well think it’s only for those hipster types who sit crossed-legged humming their way through some kind of starvation retreat. But today mindfulness is being used (non-spiritually) in schools, in the workplace, in health-care. It’s being taught as a Masters Degree at The University of Oxford; parents are learning how to use it in their family life; individuals are downloading apps and having a secret mindful moment on their commutes.

So why is everyone talking about it? What’s the big deal with mindfulness?

There’s a reason mindfulness has started turning up everywhere. And that’s because the science is backing it up. Over the last 30 years, research in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and physical medicine has linked mindfulness to a wide range of health and wellbeing benefits.

Regular mindfulness practice has been shown to cause changes in the brain which have a positive impact on our decision-making abilities and attention-span. It’s been proven to help us regulate our emotions, to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, and better cope with stress. Mindfulness can bring us a sense of calm when we’re being frazzled by the pace of life – and it’s increasingly being used to help treat anxiety and depression. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommends mindfulness as a way to prevent recurring depression.

Mindfulness can improve your happiness, your relationships, your quality of life – it helps you enjoy the day-to-day rather than waiting for that moment in the future when you think it will all fall into place and the world will be wonderful [sorry to say it but by the time you get to that day, if you do, it might not be as perfect and happy-ever-after as you think.] Mindfulness helps us to stop taking for granted all the amazing things that are right there in front of us. It helps us to better connect with and understand ourselves – and others.

What do you think? Willing to give this mindfulness lark a go? Still not sure?

If you’re someone who hasn’t jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon yet; it might all be a tad too mumbo-jumbo for you and that’s fair enough. I won’t force you to read on. There might be some of you who think there’s something in it – but you sure as heck don’t have time to try and fit it into your already brimming over schedule. I hear you…

We’re much more likely to take time for our bodies – exercise, healthy eating or a leg wax.  But we don’t prioritise the health of our minds, and I think that needs to change. So I’m wondering whether I could persuade you to join me and take 10 minutes for your mind?

From my own experience it’s hard to know where to begin. Or how to find the time. Or for you there might be other reasons you aren’t sure about trying mindfulness – it sounds boring, you don’t do sitting still, you don’t like to be alone with your thoughts, it’s not what people like you do…the list could go on. All of these may well be true but there’s evidence to show it’s good for us, so I’m up for giving it a go.

There are lots of different ways to bring mindfulness into your life but today let’s stick with 10 minutes dedicated to your mind-health. Let’s take that time to do what the mind expert people call formal mindfulness practice; which is most commonly thought of as mindful meditation. Let’s be clear this is non-spiritual meditation; no religious mantras. Mindful meditation is about finding a place where you won’t be disturbed; sitting in silence and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, your breathing or parts of your body; and learning to bring your attention back whenever your mind drifts off.

There are loads of books, online resources and guided meditations these days. But I’d recommend the Calm or Headspace apps. Using an app where someone guides me through a meditation exercise works best for me but give it a go and see what you think – both offer a free trial.

It won’t be easy but the benefits will be worth it

It doesn’t happen overnight. Unfortunately you can’t just read a book and hey presto you wake the next morning and you’ve learnt how to be more mindful. Truthfully, you’ll need to practice it regularly, ideally every day. You’ll need to take some time just for you. How often do you prioritise that? Not enough I’d bet.

I know it’s hard to find enough hours in the day as it is but could you take 10 minutes before everyone else wakes up or before you go to bed? Taking a few minutes out from always being on the go will help you to perform, think, feel better. It might be hard to make time; to step away from your to-do list of life – especially if the results aren’t immediately apparent – but over time you’ll start to see a positive change.

Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks; try not to set expectations or judge yourself if it’s tricky at first (or every blinking time you do it in my case!) The important thing is you’re trying and things will be happening in that brain wiring of yours. You’ll start to notice your mind is calmer. You’re paying more attention. You’re mindfully responding rather than emotionally reacting. You won’t look at your life or your conversations from the clouds above. You’ll learn how to focus your mind more as time goes on. You’ll end up less distracted. You’ll notice when your mind has wandered and be able to bring it back effortlessly.

The critical voices in our heads; the negative chat we give ourselves; the berating, the rumination; the judgments we throw at ourselves and others. Let’s quiet down that talk in our heads. Let’s take back control of our minds.

I hope you decide to take 10 minutes for a calmer mind. Let me know how you get on. 

 

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