Mindfulness and how it can help with mental health and wellbeing...
What does 'mindfulness' mean?
It's easy in our busy lives to be always thinking ahead, never able to take in what is going on around us. To-Do lists, mobile phones and the hectic nature of modern life mean that sometimes we never have time to catch up with ourselves.
In essence, mindfulness is about focussing on what is happening in your mind and body in real-time.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, says:
It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour.
An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a bannister as we walk upstairs.
Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment.
It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.
How can mindfulness help our mental health and wellbeing?
Being more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy and appreciate the world around us, and find the peace of mind to understand ourselves better.
Professor Williams states that:
Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.
This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply 'mental events' that do not have to control us.
Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: 'Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?'
Simple ways for adults and children to be mindful
Notice the everyday
It's so easy to be on 'autopilot' mode as we move through the day. We can interrupt that mode by noticing the sights, sounds and scents around us. Try going for a walk and making a mental note of what you can hear and see. Savour your lunch and notice the taste and texture of what you are eating.
Keep it regular
It can help if you have a regular time of day when you choose to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. It could be whilst driving or walking to school, or when relaxing in the evening.
Try something new
Taking a different route to work or school, exploring different parts of the neighbourhood or park, or sitting somewhere different for lunch can help us gain a new perspective on the world.
Watch your thoughts
It can be hard not to let worries and thoughts crowd in when practicing mindfulness. Professor Williams says:
It might be useful to remember that mindfulness isn't about making these thoughts go away, but rather about seeing them as mental events.
Imagine standing at a bus station and seeing 'thought buses' coming and going without having to get on them and be taken away. This can be very hard at first, but with gentle persistence it is possible.
Sometimes, adults and children find it easier to be mindful whilst using mindfulness techniques like walking and yoga (see below).
Name thoughts and feelings
To develop an awareness of thoughts and feelings, some people find it helpful to silently name them: "Here's the thought that I might fail that exam". Or, "This is anxiety". It can also be helpful to name feelings for children as a way of helping them to understand their emotions.
Here are some mindfulness techniques that you might want to try:
- Mindful moving, walking or running - as you move, be aware of how the world around you is impacting on your sensations.
- Mindful colouring and drawing - concentrating on colouring can help us to be present and switch off the busy thoughts inside our head. Knitting, sewing, building with Lego or craft activities can also have the same effect.
- Mindful yoga - gentle yoga postures can also help us to focus on what is going on around us. CBeebies offers yoga and other calming mindfulness activities on their website.
- Mindful meditation - You can search the NHS App Library for free mindfulness apps.
Source: NHS Mindfulness Information
Where to go for support
If you have any concerns about your child/ren's mental health, you can get more information and advice by visiting chums.uk.com, the Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing Service for Children and Young People.
You can also contact your child's class teacher to raise any mental health and well-being concerns by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, using the website contact form, or emailing your child's year group (all the year group emails are listed here).
If you are concerned about your own mental health and well-being, you can read more about how to access further advice and support by clicking here to visit Mind's website.
Mind states that despite the pandemic, the NHS is still encouraging people to come forward for support with mental health and well-being, with the GP cited as the first port of call.
Coming Up Next Week...
Next week, we will explore the NHS initiative, Every Mind Matters, and discover how it could help you and your family.