I feel like the word ‘mindfulness’ is one that has been thrown around a lot lately and it seems like it’s everywhere you turn, but as far as I’m concerned, it is actually something worth thinking about. If you can find what works for you, it can be a really helpful in improving – and preserving – mental wellbeing.
I’d definitely class myself now as somebody who is in recovery, but that doesn’t mean I can stop practicing self-care. It’s just as important as it always has been. I’m working hard to keep myself on the right track to prevent relapse, or be better prepared for it if it comes. Life still has it’s twists and turns whether you’re suffering from a mental illness or not; whether you’re in recovery or not, so I’m trying to look after my mind all the time, not just when I feel like I need it.
So mindfulness is defined as ‘a state of active, open attention on the present‘ (Psychology Today). It’s about focusing only on the present moment, without anticipating the future or mulling over the past. When I first heard about this, I thought it sounded really bloody hard. And it is. Naturally, when we sit down at the end of the day, or when we get into bed, our thoughts turn to the day we’ve had or what we’ve got on tomorrow. I decided that by doing this, I was essentially wasting the time I had in the evening. I was wasting the weekend thinking about Monday. I wasn’t switching off from work, I wasn’t sleeping as well as I should have been, I was constantly thinking about things that have already happened, or things that are yet to happen. Mindfulness isn’t about banishing these thoughts, it’s about letting them go by without jumping on them.
It’s difficult to do this when we’ve spent so long not doing it. When our thoughts turn to a worry, we naturally become swept up in it. We have trained ourselves to think about what we’ve done that day, what we’ve achieved, and to be organised, to think about tomorrow, to prepare for it. I’m not saying that these things aren’t beneficial because they are, but all it takes is ten minutes of focusing on nothing but where you are now. I’ve found this really beneficial, so I wanted to share my tips.
I think this is probably the most obvious one – it’s what most people think of when they hear the word ‘mindfulness’. Now when I first heard about meditation I wasn’t interested at all. It didn’t sound like something I wanted to try until my anxiety worsened significantly and I was willing to try anything. I thought it sounded hippyish, but it’s not. I use an iPhone app called Calm which I have written about in the past, but there are various other Smartphone apps – apparently Headspace is also a good one. The practice uses breathing and relaxation techniques and encourages you to focus on the present moment: any sensations, what you can hear, smell, feel, and checking in with your body. I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think how am I doing? – until mindfulness meditation. I noticed that after a few weeks of practicing ten minutes of meditation before bed, I was sleeping better and becoming more patient in my day-to-day life. It taught me to recognise stress within my body, and take actions to help.
Simple, yet effective. Walking is something that has been beneficial the whole way through my mental health experience. My boyfriend used to encourage me to go for walks with him when I was really suffering and whilst it was sometimes really difficult for me to do so, I felt better for it every single time. We still go for walks together and I encourage myself to be aware of my surroundings. Quite often before, I would just walk from A to B thinking about god knows what. Now, I try to think about what’s around me, what I can see, how I feel, maybe I’m cold, maybe I’m warm, what’s the weather like? There are flowers that I would never have seen before, and actually the lake is quite pretty. I quite like watching other people and thinking about where they might be going or what their relationship might be with the person(s) they’re with. This is also good for coffee shops.
I always find that photography, writing and reading will always be good for me. I never regret doing any of these things. I always think of them as a gentler form of mindfulness that you’re less aware of, ironically, rather than being so aware of what you’re doing with breathing techniques, for example.
Photography enables me to be aware of my surroundings and encourages me to spot beauty within them. Meanwhile, I’m focusing only on that. When I’m reading, I’m not thinking about anything else apart from what I’m reading – and the same goes for writing. Although, I always seem to think about food when I write. Another good one is colouring or drawing.
I encourage anyone to practice mindfulness in their lives, even if it is just for ten minutes like I say. It can be tricky at first, but stick with it. It’s worth it!