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Why you need a 'mindfulness minute' in your life

All over the festive season, TheJournal.ie is bringing you tried and tested ways to help you keep your mental health in fine fettle.

Image: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson

CAN YOU BE ‘in the now’?

What once sounded like a New Age-y concept – mindfulness and paying attention to the present moment – has proven a powerful weapon in the battle to keep calm and stress levels balanced in our everyday lives.

Mindfulness is a buzzword you may have heard, but may not be entirely sure what it is – or how it could impact your life in 2015.

It is essentially a way of reducing stress and anxiety through a number of techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, gentle yoga and so on. The Be Mindful project from the UK Mental Health Foundation notes:

It helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we’re better able to manage them.

Essentially, it has you step off the mental treadmill for long enough to get some insight into your feelings, good and bad.

A study from Oxford University just last year found that online meditation guides and emails can “significantly decrease” stress, anxiety and depression at the end of a 10-session course.

And adopting something like regular meditation into your routine can actually cause beneficial structural changes in the brain in as little as eight weeks, neuroscientists have found.

Source: OxfordMindfulness/YouTube

But I’m Irish – do we meditate now?

Someone who has been working in this area for decades is Josephine Lynch. She notes that there is an important piece of research due to emerge from St Vincent’s Hospital which measures the introduction of therapies and tools related to bio-social medicine – harnessing mind and body – against a number of medical benchmarks.

“The main way in which mindfulness can help us,” says Lynch, “is to teach us an appropriate response to what is going on in our lives. It’s not about trying to ‘fix’ somebody; the appropriate response is sometimes getting up and doing something about it but the appropriate response is sometimes to sit with it and feel the tension and anxiety and fear and breathe with it. It’s about learning wise-appropriate action.”

And not only can that impact on our own emotions, says Lynch – who co-founded mindfulness.ie – but the positive effects can ripple out to those in our social circle and beyond.

It’s not a selfish thing. It helps us consider our interactions, be less judgemental, more kind, more empathetic, it improves our communications with others.

And who is seeking out these tools?

It turns out it can be helpful to all ages and stage in life. “I see a lot of young people, people under stress at work, people being asked to live with a lot of change,” notes Lynch.

Can I have a crash course in this?

There is a short tutorial in the brilliant Irish online wellness workshop which is called ‘Mindfulness Minute’. It teaches how to incorporate a mindful minute at points through your day – this is literally a minute where you get to slow down, focus on just ‘being’ and shake off the stress of whatever your day has brought up to that point.

  • Watch the Mindfulness Minute video tutorial here>

There is also a live workshop and printable PDFs to help you develop a personal toolkit to fit in five mindful minutes each day.

Source: WellnessWorkshop.ie via Suicide or Survive

This is a great starting point, although it requires consistency and practice for it to yield results – those worksheets can really help you keep track of how you’re doing and motivate you to stick with it, as you see yourself progress.

Relaxation podcasts, meditation apps and other companion tools are a great way to help you keep an appointment with yourself to relax. In its simplest form, here’s a quick fix breathing exercise podcast from the Mental Health Foundation. It lasts for just under five minutes.

Practice, practice, practice

Finding these moments of mindfulness – be it through meditation, or gentle yoga or some other mind-body exercise – sounds restful, right?

Well, just like any other muscle, it has to be developed. This means sticking with it. Josephine Lynch has some practical tips for those finding their mind wandering:

  • Try to fit it in with something you would be doing anyway – when you are having a shower, going for a walk, sitting for a cup of tea.
  • For example, if you’re having that cup of tea, focus on feeling the warmth of the cup in your hands, on bringing it to the lips, the contact of liquid in the mouth, the swallowing. The connection with the present is through the senses.
  • Note when your mind wanders, acknowledge it and then gently bring yourself back to the moment.
  • It’s all about resilience – the more you exercise the muscle, the easier it will become.

RESOURCES TO HELP YOU DISCOVER MINDFULNESS: 

See our series on #LittleThings that can make a big difference to your mental wellbeing in 2015 here>

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