your mind becomes full
The benefits of being mindful have become common knowledge. There are lists of its amazing advantages to physical and mental health to be found easily via the internet. Mindfulness based programs have made their way into the NHS and you can even buy mindful magazines and colouring books down the local supermarket. So, I think it is fair to say, that if this is the first time you have heard of mindfulness, you must have been living under a rock for the last decade.
One popular internet source (huffpost.com) says it lowers stress, helps you sleep better and even makes you a better person!
But… how true is all of this and are we missing a vital point?
A great book on mindfulness is by Jon Kabat-Zinn; Full catastrophe living is a long read but well worth it if you are interested in the subject. He developed many programs on mindfulness, which at the time of writing the second edition of the above book, are being used in over 720 medical centres, hospitals and therapy clinics around the world.
Stress Reduction and Cognitive therapy (often abbreviated to MBSR or MBCT) both involve mindfulness techniques with many people feeling the benefits. However, some people just don’t feel stressed (or so they say) so is mindfulness a waste of their time?
One reason is because we all have a stress response (it’s biological and linked to fight or flight), it’s just that some deal with it better than others.
A lot of people will use food, alcohol, drugs and other stress relievers however; while dessert is lovely, it doesn’t necessarily have longer lasting health benefits.
Mindfulness can help lower stress by initiating a relaxation response and helping you accept and deal with the feelings and emotions arising from stressful situations or events. Mindful Meditation is a great way of achieving this. New areas of research are evolving all the time along with the movement of Positive Psychology. Recent studies suggest that mindfulness can broaden and build our positive emotion, so essentially making us feel even better when we already feel good. So, you don’t need to feel stressed or on the verge of meltdown to start practising mindfulness. It can be beneficial to start even if you are feeling ok.
So, is this the vital point we have lost along the way? Focusing on reducing the negative has given us a great volume of research, providing us with excellent programs which help those in need, but has this resulted in us missing the cultivation of the positive?
A comprehensive article by Garland and colleagues in 2015 suggests we may have lost the wider view of how mindfulness can promote lasting positive change. This is why I say you don’t have to wait for the stress to creep in before you practice being mindful. Being mindful can open you up to positive experience and help you savour the good moments. There are plenty of pleasant experiences in everyday life, we just need to notice that they are there. For example, savouring a nice sunny day at the British seaside by taking a moment to sit and meditate.
Some people reading this may be thinking, ‘what have I got to be mindful about?’. It is easy to only think back on the negative moments each day inevitably throws at us. Delayed journeys to work, harsh words between family and friends or an ungrateful boss. This can make being mindful hard work. Try the below intervention first.
A positive psychology intervention from Martin Seligman which fosters gratitude is
‘Three Good Things’. Before you go to bed each night, note down three good things from your day.
Do this for a week.
The trick to remember with all of this is that we are not ignoring the negative. We are not saying ignore feelings of sadness, fear or despair. Mindfulness can help to enable reflection; aid reappraisal so re-framing of events can be possible. All of this can build eudaimonic well-being which focuses on self-actualization and meaning. After a week, you will hopefully have a lot better things you can be mindful about.
So, there is support for being mindful improving positive states of wellbeing not just reducing the negative.
But how do we become mindful? Apart from the mindful meditation and relaxation mentioned above you can try several other skills. These can be taught on courses and are offered across the country by various practitioners. If you are thinking that you have no time for a lengthy course or little money to afford the fees charged, then try the following:
Savouring: Being more aware of positive moments that happen throughout your day is a great start to feeling more positive. Now practise the mindful skill of savouring those moments. It doesn’t matter what it is, just allow yourself the time to enjoy it.
Examples of moments to savour:
- The sun setting on your train journey home from work, admire the beauty of the natural world.
- Your favourite food; when did you last savour the taste?
- A cuddle, kiss or more (Cheeky, but really, actually savour the moment and the positive feelings)
- Savour a walk in the park, or a run or some time down the gym.
So now you have some tips to becoming mindful try employing them in your everyday life. No-one is too busy to have some time for themselves. It is essential and certainly not selfish to look after your own well-being. The vital part of mindfulness is that it doesn’t need to stop as soon as you feel ok. It is a practise, a lifestyle choice even, which can continuously aid your psychological well-being.