Ten Keys to Happier Living – 4. Awareness
Living life mindfully. Action for Happiness claim that
‘Learning to be more mindful and aware can do wonders for our wellbeing in all areas of life’.
“An integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings and mental health. It is becoming widely used in a range of contexts. It is recommended by NICE as a preventative practice for people with experience of recurrent depression.”
Mental Health Foundation.
So, what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is not fluffy nonsense, nor is it a passing fad. It basically means to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than going over the past or thinking of the future. It does take effort and work to develop mindfulness skills and time to practice them, but the benefits can be massive.
Benefits of mindfulness
- feel less overwhelmed
- improve your sleep quality
- positively change the way you think and feel about your experiences (especially stressful experiences)
- increase your ability to manage difficult situations
- make wiser choices
- reduce levels of anxiety
- reduce levels of depression
- reduce levels of stress
- reduce the amount you chew things over in your mind
- have greater self-compassion
Taken from Bemindful.co.uk
How do you practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness exercises are ways of paying attention to the present moment, that is the mindfulness goal. You can achieve this goal by using techniques like yoga, meditation and breathing. However, there are also many mindful exercises you can fit in to your day, without attending a class or needing to set aside dedicated time. It is about being mindful about everything around you as well as the feelings of your own breathing and body.
Here are 5 examples of daily mini mindfulness moments;
Mindful Walking. If you already do some walking as part of your daily routine, around 10-15 minutes or more, then you can do a little walking mindfulness meditation. As when cultivating all forms of mindfulness, it’s about focusing the attention.
Start by concentrating on the sensation of your feet touching the ground. Then move the focus on to your breath and around your body part by part. If your mind wanders, that’s ok, gently bring it back to your breath, your feet and try to stay in the present moment.
Mindful Eating. You’ll be pleased to know this doesn’t mean going on a diet! When you take a first bite of your meal, take a moment to really pay attention to the taste. The texture, the taste, the smell, how your body reacts to it and how your mouth moves.
Mindful Breathing. At any time during the day, take a moment to focus on one breath. Breathe in, then breathe out. Focus your attention on how this feels, where you notice the air moving, how your chest and abdomen move. Try it now!
Mindful Nature. When you get an opportunity to go to a park or green space of some kind, then becoming more aware of the nature around you is a great mindfulness exercise. See the different types of leaves, hear the bird calls, the wind and the distant rumble of traffic, sense the air moving over your skin and sun heating your face, stay in the present moment.
Mindful Listening. We get used to a lot of the sounds that are around us and quickly tune them out, try to listen to the noises around you in the present moment. This could be city noises, cars, train announcements, people chatting, or countryside trees blowing in the wind, birds, lawn mowers. What can you hear right now?
Training and exercises like these help people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, they are better able to manage them. Practising mindfulness can give more insight into emotions, boost attention and concentration, and improve relationships
Mindfulness for both our physical and mental health
Mindfulness is recommended as a treatment for people with mental ill-health as well as those who want to improve their mental health and wellbeing. In addition to its benefits for our health and psychological functioning, mindfulness has been shown to directly increase our level of positive emotions in a number of different scientific studies. For example the brains of people who have been practicing mindfulness regularly show patterns of activation in the areas of our brain associated with feeling good.
Mindfulness has been shown to help people manage pain, reduce blood pressure, anxiety and depression. Recent research suggests that mindfulness literally changes our brains – for the better. People who have practiced it regularly, show fewer signs of stress, positive changes in the parts of the brain associated with positive emotion, distinct patterns of activity associated with compassion towards others and thickening of the areas of the brain associated with sensory processing.
There are also different sorts of mindfulness meditation which can help people in different ways. Evidence shows compelling support for Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which helps people to cope with stress, and for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which is designed to help people with recurring depression. They provide a flexible set of skills to manage mental health and support wellbeing.
Mindfulness in the workplace
We spend more of our time working than doing anything else, and researchers have found that these hours are on average the least happy of our lives. Endemic stress in knowledge-based industries accounts for a large proportion of workplace absence and represents a huge loss of national productivity. Meanwhile, success in most organisations relies on the very things that unhappiness and stress erode – collaboration, creativity, cognitive flexibility and effective decision-making. New perspectives from psychology and neuroscience, and publications like the UK Government’s 2008 Foresight report ‘Mental Capital and Wellbeing’, are increasingly helping leaders to see that the cognitive and emotional resources of their colleagues determine the health, resilience and future performance of their businesses and institutions.
Mindfulness within organisations can support employees because it:
- equips individuals with self-awareness that helps them to understand resilience and actively participate in its development
- enables people to recognise the signs of stress and respond more effectively
- develops discernment between activities that nurture or deplete internal resources
- recognises the power of thoughts and finds ways of skilfully working with them
- supports a culture where relationships are valued.
Taken from The Mindfulness Initiative
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