Mindfulness - an invaluable tool for building resilience
Updated: Jul 17, 2020
We hear a lot about mindfulness these days, so what is it and what’s the big deal? The Oxford dictionary defines it as, “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something”.
It is the practice of purposefully focusing all of our attention on the current moment and accepting it without judgement. It is about being fully engaged with whatever we are doing – maintaining a moment by moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment – free from distraction or judgement. When we practice mindfulness, we keep our thoughts tuned into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than ruminating on the past or imagining the future.
Sound difficult? It can be, especially if you have a busy mind. We often train our minds to try and multitask or multi-focus, but we can equally train our minds to be mindful. Like so many things, the more we practice, the more natural it becomes.
Before I talk about how to train ourselves to be mindful, I’ll cover the why. Why is it important for our health to be mindful? The short answer is that mindfulness is an incredible tool – or really lifestyle – that really benefits all areas of our health, and especially our mental health. Thousands of studies have documented these benefits. It reduces rumination & overthinking; reduces stress, anxiety, overwhelm and depression; improves sleep, focus and cognition. And of course lowering stress and anxiety, and improving sleep impacts all other areas of our health. Mindfulness has also been shown to lower blood pressure, slow ageing, reduce physical pain and increase resilience.
We weren’t made to multi task or live in the past or future. Yes remembering is good – commemorative days are a good example, or just enjoying happy, funny or positive memories. Likewise spending time thinking about, planning and even imagining the future has a place and can be both motivating, efficient and also stir our creativity, but that in itself can be mindful – purposed time set aside to remember, to plan or to imagine. But when we try to multi-task, our brains actually task split and it puts us under more stress.
Ok, so how can we train ourselves to be mindful? First, here’s a short quiz you can do to help assess how mindful you already are https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/sites/default/files/mindfulnessscale.pdf. I encourage you to take few moments to do it now.
Now that you’ve done the quiz, let’s talk about some ways we can increase our moments of mindfulness.
One practice that can help is mindfulness meditation. This is often confused with mindfulness itself. Mindfulness meditation is one way to experience and practice being in the present – completely aware of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and the surrounding environment without stopping and thinking about these things or judging them. It is a training ground for learning mindfulness. Regular mindfulness meditation can help to train us to be more mindful and can also be a great tool to use when feeling particularly stressed or anxious. One website or app that I find especially good for this is https://www.headspace.com. They have packs specifically focused for such things as sleep and anxiety. They also offer a family plan https://www.headspace.com/family-plan, and mindfulness meditations for children https://www.headspace.com/meditation/kids. And they offer a free trial.
(Now I feel I need to just make a very brief side note here to reassure my Christian reading audience… mindfulness meditation is NOT the same as transcendental meditation which delves into a spiritual realm. Mindfulness meditation is very much about staying in the present and completely aware; also, while it does have its roots in Buddhist meditation, modern mindfulness meditation is a mental practice of its own separate to Buddhism.)
Ok, so how else can we practice and train ourselves to be more mindful? Here’s a few of my favourites (you can find a bunch more online):
Mindful eating (I’ll be writing more about that next week).
Mindful walking. When we walk mindfully, we aren’t so focused on the destination but the journey. Notice the feel of the sun or breeze on your skin, the sounds and scenery around you, the feel of the ground under your feet. Observe your breathing. Observe how you feel.
Enjoy tea – not while you’re busy doing something else, but stop and take time for a cup of tea. Enjoy the process, it really is therapeutic. Perhaps use a pot and your favourite tea cup. Notice the colours and smells of the herbs or leaves, if you have a clear pot or are brewing in a cup, watch the flavour seep into the water as it brews; find a quiet place to sit, observe the colour of the tea pouring out of the pot, smell the lovely aroma of the blend, notice the taste as you drink it as well as the feeling of the hot liquid in your mouth & going down your throat. Observe your surroundings – again feel the sun or breeze on your skin, what sounds can you hear? Notice how the tea makes you feel. (A little plug here – go for herbal - I sell some beautiful blends, perfect for this exercise, but seriously, black tea is fine too… this could equally be done with brewed coffee).
Really engage with people. Put distractions, the to-do list, day dreaming aside and give them your full focus. Listen without judgement, listen without formulating your response. Just listen – completely – to what they’re saying and perhaps what they aren’t saying. Watch their expression and body language, listen to their tone of voice, or that little sigh. Listen for their heart. And be aware of your feelings and responses too.
Observe your breathing (for one minute or a few) – the inhalation, the exhalation, feel the air going in, notice the rise and fall of your abdomen. Feel your muscles relax as you exhale.
Pause between activities – don’t just rush to the next thing on your list, but pause for a moment. Pause and feel the weight of your body in your chair before beginning your work. Pause and observe your surroundings before you get out of the car.
Get lost in doing what you love.
Not sure I can call this one a favourite, but it gives lots of opportunity to practice being mindful… and that is housework – you can do the dishes, vacuum the floor or hang the washing mindfully, … notice the smells, the feel, the sounds, how your body feels, the pleasure of making something clean…
Ultimately, you are working toward naturally being mindful and present with all that you do. It helps you to slow down, it helps you to appreciate life and it has loads of health benefits.