Mindfulness is a simple, practical skill which helps us with stress reduction, anxiety and low mood, and can help our relationships with ourselves and with others, even in the middle of a full, busy life. It also lowers blood pressure , helps with insomnia , and can help you to learn to cope with any long term health problem.
Since the 1980s mindfulness has been taught in widely available well-studied, completely secular 8-week courses. These 8-week programmes are known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT); more variations are being created all the time but the key practice in all of these programmes is one of intentionally paying attention in the moment – mindfulness. Watch here for a short video on some of the neuroscience of mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention, in the present moment and with an open, curious mind. It is not complicated – it really possible for everyone. If you can breathe, you can practice mindfulness! Through practising mindfulness we learn to be fully present with our experience. Research has shown that when we are more present, we feel happier. You can watch a short talk here.
By regularly practising mindfulness, our stress 'fight or flight' responses also become weaker. Mindfulness practice reduces the activity of the amygdala , the part of the brain largely responsible for generating stress. Many participants report simply feeling less bothered by problems of all kinds. On a more reflective level, we learn to see our habitual reactions to stress and difficulties and respond in a new way rather than doing the same thing again and again. These are both ways in which we can achieve stress reduction by using mindfulness.
Stress and anxiety often go together and mindfulness is helpful for both. It helps with all levels of anxiety, whether it be a long-standing problem or a relatively recent change in your life and whether it is low-level 'free-floating anxiety', panic attacks or obsessive worrying.
Mindfulness has also been found to be as good as drugs for treating recurrent depression. However if you are currently depressed it is not the right time to do the course; it is better to do it when you are on a more even keel.
Practising mindfulness can also help us not to be so dragged around by habitual spiralling thoughts such as self-criticism and catastrophic thinking which in themselves can greatly increase anxiety levels. With mindfulness we learn to detach from thoughts and give them less importance, and give priority to what is really happening rather than what we are worried about.
The workplace is a major source of stress for many people. Again, mindfulness helps us to cope with workplace stress .
Author: Jiva Masheder of Mindfulness Brighton
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