Did you know that mindfulness can be helpful for your well being and mental health? We take a look at some of the benefits and top tips for you to try yourself.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation – it’s about focusing your mind on the present rather than letting it drift into the past or future.
You don’t need to try and ’empty your mind’ but rather let thoughts come and go without getting caught up on any particular one.
Daily life can be stressful – but mindfulness can help you ‘roll with the punches’ and adapt to stressful situations. Some people have said that it almost gives them a ‘mental armour’.
Stress is also not just emotional, it can be physical. Mindfulness can help lower your breathing rate, heart rate and blood pressure, and also lower levels of stress hormones in your body.
Many people don’t realise but pain and depression (and other mental illnesses) can be very closely related – in fact, pain can cause depression and depression can cause pain.
So for those with pain from mental illness or other chronic pain, studies have shown that mindfulness can help.
While everyone feels angry from time to time which is a healthy and normal emotion, some people can find their anger hard to manage.
For those who do have difficulty with anger, mindfulness can help them manage these feelings.
Some people with mental illnesses can experience memory loss or difficultly focusing. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to both improve a person’s memory and attention.
Fatigue (or exhaustion) is very common for people who have a mental illness such as depression. For those with insomnia, mindfulness can help combat this or improve the quality of sleep.
We also all worry about the future or have regrets about the past, but mindfulness can mean you worry less about these.
It can help you to tell apart thoughts which are helpful (those which can help you problem solve), and a nagging worry (that provides no benefit by focusing on it).
Many people have niggling thoughts – ‘I’m not good enough’. Mindfulness helps you question these thoughts – ‘Is it true?’, ‘Is it helpful?’.
When you are mindful of your thoughts and feelings, you can start to trust what your brain and body really need and start valuing how amazing you are!
There are only two steps to mindfulness:
Sounds simple? Well, it does takes practice! But don’t give up and be kind with yourself.
There are lots of different mindfulness exercises – and which one you pick is up to you! But here are just 3 exercises you can give a go.
One great mindfulness exercise you might like to try, uses breathing.
Find somewhere comfortable to sit with your feet on the floor, back supported, shoulders relaxed, and arms resting in your lap. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
As you breathe in, say the number 50 in your head; as you breathe out say the number 49. Continue to count backwards from 50 – breathing in on the even numbers and out on the uneven numbers.
If you lose count or get distracted – don’t worry, just return to 50 and start again. If you get to 0 (well done!), also return to 50 and start again.
Do this for 5 – 10 minutes.
A guided meditation is when a narrator talks you through some instructions – this may be focusing on your breath, or sensations in your body, or visualising an environment.
If you wanted to give this a go, there are some great online apps available.
Headspace is a popular one that offers 10 free sessions. Another online resource comes from Dr Ronald Siegal which you can download at Mindfulness Solution.
It might sound strange, but you can practice mindfulness by doing an everyday task such as gardening, going for a walk, or folding the washing.
To do this, get rid of the distractions around you such as the TV or music – and concentrate fully on your task.
While you do it, take note of the sensations, the textures, the colours, and the sounds around you.
Maybe your clean washing smells fresh, or the dirt from the garden is cool in your hands, or maybe you can hear birds outside. Allow yourself to get absorbed in the task you are doing.
Every time you get distracted, just turn your attention back to those sensations, sounds, or smells around you.
After reading this you might be ready to start mindfulness and that’s great news! But it’s important to know that mindfulness is not for everyone.
If you have a mental illness, please talk to a health professional before starting a mindfulness program. It may be that mindfulness is not the right treatment for you or perhaps it is best done with a health professional guiding you and helping you with any emotions or concerns.
If you need to talk to someone about mental illness or a crisis in your life, please consider calling Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636, or the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.
Our author, Melissa Saville, is a Physiotherapist, mindfulness coach, and a Pilates and Yoga teacher. She has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and practices mindfulness daily to help manage her fatigue and major depression.
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