There are many tools and practices that can be used to help people with cope with stress, anxiety, depression and grief. Mindfulness is one of these techniques and it has been used extensively in psychological practice for many decades.
Mindfulness is about learning how to be ‘present’ in the moment, being aware of your emotions, physical sensations and thoughts in real time, without judgement. It is about recognising and accepting what you are feeling without downplaying, excusing or rationalising those feelings. It is a skill that can take some time to develop but can be very helpful in alleviating stress dealing with grief, overcoming compulsive behaviours and improving self-awareness.
Mindfulness techniques teach us how to de-clutter our mind and how to thoughtfully ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’ to stressful situations.
Practising mindfulness for just a few minutes a day can be very beneficial and you do not need to engage a psychologist, or counsellor to learn how to do it. There are many simple exercises you can attempt at home, on your lunch break, in between classes or even in the middle of a particularly stressful activity.
One such exercise is provided here, courtesy of the Black Dog Institute www.blackdoginstitute.org.au.
- Bring yourself into the present by deliberately adopting an erect and dignified posture.
- Then ask yourself: “What is going on with me at the moment?”
- You simply allow yourself to observe whatever happens. Label any thoughts that you have and then leave them alone….just be prepared to let them float away. Attend to your breathing or simply take in your surroundings instead.
- Besides thoughts, there may be sounds you hear, bodily sensations that you are aware of. If you find yourself constantly elaborating on thoughts, rather than labelling them and returning to the neutral, remember to observe your breathing.
- When emotions or memories of painful events occur, don’t allow yourself to become caught up by them.
- Give them short labels such as “that’s a sad feeling”, “that’s an angry feeling” and then just allow them to drift or float away. These memories and feelings will gradually decrease in intensity and frequency.
- More importantly, you will begin to identify yourself as an objective observer or witness rather than a person who is disturbed by these thoughts and feelings. This requires practise but can then be used whenever you are stressed.
Mindfulness techniques can also be used to help people with eating disorders such as over-eating and binge eating. By applying a mindful approach, people can learn to be present in the process of eating, recognise the emotions they link to particular food and feelings they experience when they consume different foods.
Neuroscientists researching mindfulness techniques have found evidence that this type of meditation helps to:
- Improve concentration, memory and attention
- Reduce fear, stress and anxiety
- Preserve brain tissue and grow parts of the brain associated with compassion, empathy, emotional response and perspective.
There are many websites and smart phone apps available that can help you if you are interested in starting mindfulness meditation, or you can speak to a psychologist or mental health counsellor as another useful starting point.