Most people today are stressed out by the fast pace of life. In the UK alone, 45% of sick days are due to stress. Some, 12 million adults in the UK have stress related mental health problems. We have a stress epidemic on our hands. It's no wonder that mindfulness has rapidly gained interest in the science community (and the media) for its far reaching, drug-free, mental health remedies.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a very simple form of meditation that was little known in the West until recently. It's a mind-body medicine practice, based on ancient Zen buddhist meditation techniques popularised by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Mindfulness increases emotional health, leading to long lasting, positive changes to mental wellbeing, not only can it resolve mental health problems but it's an excellent preventative. People who have good emotional health are aware of their thoughts feelings and behaviours. Mindfulness encourages emotional awareness through short meditation practices. Mindfulness meditations involve focusing your attention to your thoughts, taking time to observe them individually, in a non-judgemental manner, as they enter and leave your mind. In essence, mindfulness allows you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral. It helps you to understand what you are feeling, at any one time and peacefully, overcome any unpleasant feelings, such as anxiety. It is a form of brain training.
Do you ever wonder why you can advise your friend in ways you can't advise yourself? This is because we lack objectivity in matters concerning ourselves, we can take things personally and react emotionally, not logically. By incorporating mindfulness into our thought process, we train our minds to logically process a situation and react in an appropriate way.
Over time, mindfulness brings about long-term changes in mood and increased levels of happiness and wellbeing. Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns in relation to anxiety, stress, depression and irritability so that when they arise, they dissolve away again more easily.
What Mindfulness Isn't
Despite it's scientifically endorsed and drug-free advantages many people are still a little wary when they hear the words "mindfulness meditation" (lawyers cough, cough). So allow me to dispel some meditation myths;
- Meditation is not a cult or a religion it's simply a method of mental training.
- You don't have to sit cross-legged on the floor or hum (you can if you want to). Meditation is a very personal practice and can be carried out in anyway you prefer. I do walking meditation and driving meditation, using up the time to and from work or social events.
- Meditation is not an airy fairy, hippy-dippy concept. It's a scientifically backed way to combat mental illness (of which stress is a large contributor) and importantly it has heaps of other benefits, that last for the rest of your life, promoting increased happiness and prevention of mental decline.
- Mediation does not take a lot of time, although some patience is required. It becomes a part of your life, you just have to make the time to start.
Read more about mindfulness and it's benefits here.