What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as "paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement" (Jon Kabat-Zinn).
- On purpose: Intentionally directing awareness from the ‘auto pilot’ view to focus attention on something specific. For example, movements and surroundings.
- Present moment: Our minds usually wander with thoughts about the past and the future. With mindfulness, you can focus your attention on the ‘here and now', for example current activities, thoughts and movement.
Mindfulness can be a way of slowing down, and research has found that practising mindfulness for 30 minutes was significantly associated with positive outcomes (Parsons et al., 2017).
How does mindfulness help wellbeing?
Mindfulness increases your self-awareness, your ability to control your attention, and your understanding of your emotions and thoughts. For example, mindfulness encourages you to see your thoughts as just thoughts and not as facts.
Becoming more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. Due to this mindfulness has been found to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep.
How to practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is a skill and therefore requires practice. As you start, you may find it difficult to be present and find your mind wandering. This is a normal response of the human mind. Therefore, be patient and kind to yourself and don’t feel disheartened if you find it difficult.
There is no ‘right way’ to practice mindfulness. You can be mindful through various activities and incorporate the practice into your daily life, for example when exercising or eating.
You can also bring mindfulness into automatic processes such as breathing and bodily sensations.
Notice the everyday
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness.
Keep it regular
Choosing a regular time to be mindful can help you build the habit of mindfulness into your daily routine. For example, including it as part of your journey to work or during your lunchtime walks. This can help you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you.
Try something new
Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.
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". You may find it useful to journal your thoughts and feelings throughout the day. Using this feeling wheel can be a place to start to name your feelings.
Free yourself from the past and the future
You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been "trapped" in reliving past problems or "pre-living" future worries.
Managing difficult thoughts and emotions with mindfulness
While being in the present, you may notice difficult thought patterns and emotions. This may make you feel uncomfortable and you may become more critical about yourself and the experience.
When being mindful, you should observe your present moment without judgement; this can help with self-compassion. Therefore, mindful practice with difficult thoughts is not about banishing these thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts.
Instead, it is about being aware of the thoughts, and accepting your feelings about them in a non-judgemental way.
The "leaves on the stream" exercise can help with starting this. Before you start, remember that thoughts are not facts and you don’t need to act on them. Watch the video below to find out more.
These tools can be used as a starting point to reflect, re-centre and start incorporating mindfulness.
Headspace mini meditation: let go of stress
Find your sense of calm with this mini meditation delivered by Headspace. The Headspace app delivers guided meditations, providing tools to build resilience, reduce stress and aid better sleep.
NHS staff have been given free access to the app until 31 December 2022. Find out how to access and download here free wellbeing apps.
A clinically proven online mindfulness course approved by the NHS, Be Mindful helps you to manage your stress through mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).