Mindfulness is a word I hear thrown about all the time. It’s on posters, adverts, mentioned in tv and radio interviews, preached about by influencers on social media but what exactly does it mean? Is it really as great and beneficial as everyone makes it out to be or is it just a fad? According to the mental health charity Mind, mindfulness is a technique you can learn which involves making a special effort to notice what’s happening in the present moment (in your mind, body and surroundings) – without judging anything.
If you are feeling stressed or notice that twinge of anxiety, mindfulness is brilliant for helping you focus on the here and now instead of the past or the future. Whenever I feel anxious or worried, I first start to focus on my breath and the feeling of my breath in my lungs, my stomach, my nostrils and wherever else in my body I feel it. I try and stop my thoughts wandering and when they inevitably do, I bring them back to my breath. You can do this with your eyes closed or with your gaze lowered on a fixed point. This is a really handy technique if you are on the train or in the car on the way to work or school that allows you to gather yourself before starting the day. If you have an important presentation to do or something difficult just happened at school, you can do this without anyone else noticing what is going on and it gives you time to calm yourself and see what you are feeling.
Another technique I use a lot is visualising my thoughts. This takes quite a lot of practice but gets easier with time and is worth sticking out. My preferred method is imagining that I am sitting on the bank of a river or a canal and that the leaves floating down the stream are my thoughts. Each leaf is a different thought that comes into your head and then as it flows down the stream, it leaves your mind again. In this way, you take the power away from your thoughts because by observing your thoughts you don’t engage with them but instead let them fade away. This is particularly useful with self-doubt or the not so nice thoughts we all have at some point. Instead of following these “what if” thoughts down the rabbit hole, you let them disappear. Another good one can be imagining that you are on the top of a mountain and looking down on yourself and what is currently going on. This distance between you and your thoughts can give perspective. A third concept is that you are standing on a platform and watching trains go by. Each train is a thought and you decide what train you want to get on (preferably a positive one) and you can get off or change trains or directions at any moment. I tend to try and stay on the platform and let each train pass me by until there are no more so that I can find a sense of inner calm and peace.
Mindfulness isn’t only useful when you are stressed or anxious – we could all do with going about our daily lives more mindfully. When I’m making a cup of tea I try and block out everything that’s going on around me and focus on really listening to the sound of the kettle boiling, the smell of the teabag, watching the water and the tea leaves mix together in my cup and how the colour changes when I pour in a dash of milk and then really tasting my tea instead of gulping it down while I do 10,000 other things at the same time. The same idea works for most other situations. While sitting in the classroom, your office or at home, try naming 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. This can help take your mind off things and bring you back to the here and now. I like to do this just before I go to sleep at night to help me to stop fixating on my worries.
Personally, I have definitely become less anxious and better able to cope with the big and small stresses of life since I’ve started being mindful. It’s important to focus on yourself once in a while. We are often so focused on our phones or trying to multitask that we forget to see how we are doing. Mindfulness can help you cope with stress or anxiety, help you live in the present if you tend to focus on the past or the future and make the best of whatever you are currently experiencing. There are lots of different apps, podcasts, websites, books and videos that can help you be more mindful in your daily life and that can show you different techniques that might be a better fit for you than the ones I’ve outlined above that work for me.