Benefits of mindfulness and meditation
Stress and mental health issues can clearly be exacerbated by our fast paced, plugged in world, which can leave little space in your life to connect with yourself.
Mindfulness or a Meditation practice may not have overnight results, but it can add to our toolkit of helpful techniques for self-care and self-management. It is a skill that develops the more you do it, and the effects are cumulative.
Some of the benefits of mindfulness or meditation is calming the nervous system, it can create a sense of calm within yourself.
Being aware of your mind and body and breathing mindfully or meditating will activate the parasympathetic nervous system which induces a sense of peace and relaxation in mind and body. This an evidence based practice, and science suggests that it lowers levels of cortisol (the hormone associated with stress), and can be reduced by the practice of mindfulness or medication.
Mindfulness and meditation teaches us to accept difficulties, life stress or situations out of our control. It can be helpful to confront and embrace the situation you’re struggling with. By facing difficult thoughts with non-judgmental acceptance, and holding a space to just ‘be’ with these thoughts it can actually lessen their intensity.
These techniques help us to practice self-compassion by being more aware of what is going on in our mind. Once our thoughts stop being automatic and we are aware of them we have a choice to challenge them and practice self-compassion and attempt to not judge these thoughts.
Mindfulness is continually part of the banter from mental health professionals to the point where many clients feel they need to ‘schedule in’ mindfulness and counselling.
There has been overwhelming evidence of the benefits of mindfulness based therapy including (but not limited to) stress reduction, improving your memory and focus.
These results speak for themselves in the clients and their reported changes in wellbeing. The step further to this is embedding mindfulness into our daily lives outside the counselling room.
Shapiro et al (2007) developed a theoretical framework for mindfulness that involved ‘intention’, ‘attention’ and ‘attitude’ of acceptance, openness and curiosity. These three elements give us insight into what’s missing in our day to day life. Let’s use the simple example of the old saying ‘stopping to smell the roses’.
First the person stops (intention). They stop what they are normally doing with their busy life with school, work, schedules and chaos and just stop, intending on doing something different and simple. Something positive.
The word intent begs the questions as to what your intent is right now with what your doing. Is there much ‘intent’ in what you do or is there just a stream of ongoing tasks that never stop?
Simply asking the question ‘why am i doing this’ makes us think about our thoughts and processes behind what we do. Mindfulneess can be a great insight booster into understanding our processes
Second, attention to the roses, focusing on the one sense (smell) but also observing it as unique and separate to the world. Over time this practice will help shift the person’s attitude and the feeling of being more present in their life.
Attention is another interesting idea, especially the amount of attention on work tasks or normal boring activities and the usefulness of this. Third Attitude. What is our attitude towards acceptance, openness and curiosity? Are we shutting down to getting through or is there an ability to be curious and think things through without deadlines? These three elements can be a hard task but worth it if we are trying to work on our mental health.
For right now, STOP! Intend on doing something small like smelling the roses. Notice how this makes you feel in your busy life. Overtime this will help you observe your mood more effectively but also lessen the intensity of those stressors.
Mindfulness to change mental health issues
Lets break down depression and what it does to our thinking.
Depression is makes feel that we have fallen into a pit. Our thinking becomes negative and there is a spiral of ‘everything is bad’ or ‘im not good enough’ thinking.. These patterns of thinking and feelings bog is us down into rigid and inflexible ways of being.
Mindfulness builds curiosity and openness for what is possible but giving our brain a break from the thoughts and trying something different. Depression shuts down possibility whereas mindfulness builds curiosity and a different way of thinking.
Grounding as part of mindfulness.
Sometimes it is very hard to stop and pause because our mind is raising. Its very hard to ‘smell the roses’ when your worried about a business meeting or a deadline or even a family issue at home.
Grounding can be a way to get you out of your head (racing thoughts) and feel a little more present. That is the goal for grounding. Here is a simple trick to get this process started…
Wiggle your toes. Sounds weird right? Give it a go and notice how weird that feels. If your wearing shoes notice how odd that is moving your feet around or with no shoes notice your feet contacting the ground as you wiggle them.
What we are doing is we are making our brain focus on something quite physical that feels weird and their requires our attention. This is basically giving your mind a break from stressors onto something tangible.
Now stop wiggling and try tensing up your hands into fists or your toes. Tense really hard for 5 secounds and realize. Again we are doing weird things here to shift focus. These are basic grounding exercises that can slightly shift things.
Some people dont like mindfulness or dont feel they ‘get it’ for a couple of reasons.
They dont like the feeling of it.
Sometimes when someone is so used to being on the ‘go’ all the time that stopping and slowing down is a scary ideas. Usually this is because there isnt much control and how they might feel or what else might happen if they drop the ball of getting stuff done.
That’s ok if this is your experience, it just means that mindfulness needs to be done in a different way or try something else that works. This reasons does tap into how much your mental health is impacting you.
The other reason is they just don’t understand it. That’s totally ok as sometimes mindfulness comes across as airy fairy or dream like and its not logical. Its ok not to do mindfulness its just a useful tool that helps many people.
Mindfullness is a fancy way of saying doing something with intent, attention and being open about it. So therefore you can drink a glass of water mindfully or walk mindfully. There is no cut and dry rule book here, its just about directing our minds in a way that is helpful.
Clearly grounding and mindfulness don’t fix your situation of the upcoming business meeting or deadline but it gives us brain space to slow down and cope. There is a bigger picture here as to how you got to stressing and feeling overwhelmed which counselling can help with.
Counselling involves initial strategies to build coping BUT it is also about processing and changing thoughts/feeling and people to live a better life.
The art of mindfulness is a great practice that you can start by simply using these above tricks throughout your day. We are here to help you slow down and take charge of coping. Reach out for a further discussion with our team.
If you liked this article, you can also take a look at more information on mental health.