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A Beginner’s Guide to Mindfulness

For many of us an unavoidable aspect of modern day life is a constant barrage of things to do, plan, think about, worry about etc. It can be quite difficult to find time to just be still, rest and relax. A movement which has become very popular in recent years is “mindfulness”. Put simply, this is paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you.

So how does mindfulness help our mental wellbeing? Essentially it’s because when we become more aware of the present moment, it can help us enjoy the world around and understand ourselves better.

Indeed, when we are more aware of the here and now, we see afresh those things that we may have been taking for granted.

Mindfulness has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression, especially for people who have suffered with it in the past.

How to start…

The NHS have a very useful guide on how to get started and become an expert in mindfulness. They explain that reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step. They also recommend:

Notice the everyday

Even in everyday life, take a moment to admire a cloud formation, take longer to savour the taste of chocolate, or even just the feel of your cat’s soft fur. It sounds like a small thing, but it has a great ability to help interrupt the ‘autopilot’ we’ve switched on subconsciously.

Keep it regular

As humans we are a species who likes a routine. If you chose to set aside  time  to be mindful every day (perhaps 15 minutes before bed) then you are far more likely to continue doing it.

Try something new

This doesn’t have to be any ground-breaking new sports or hobbies, even the simple act of sitting in a different seat during a meeting, or switching to a new cereal type can help you notice the world in a whole new way.

Watch your thoughts

It can be quite difficult to practice mindfulness because as soon as you stop and take a moment to be still, lots of other thoughts and worries come crashing in. Professor Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says:

“It’s important to remember that “mindfulness isn’t about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events”

You can acknowledge they are there, but do not need to be swept away with them.

Name thoughts and feelings

There will always be emotions that can feel like they are all encompassing and might overwhelm us. A mindfulness tactic is to silently give them a name and recognise them for what they are. For example, “here is a thought that I might not be able to do this”. Or, put more simply “this is anxiety”.

Free yourself from the past and future

There will always be things to stew over from the past, and there will undoubtedly be things to worry about that haven’t happened yet. It can help for just a few minutes if you switch off your mind and are no longer trapped in the cycle of worrying.

Whilst it is good practice to engage in a few moments of mindfulness each day, you may also find it useful to go to specific classes which will help train your mind in how to do it best. If you look online or at local community centre noticeboards, you will often find teachers advertising in your area.

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