The impact of stress in our life
In today’s world, stress is a major global public health concern. The typical response to stress is rumination, which is repetitive thinking or dwelling on negative feelings. However, this can be counterproductive because it drains our mental and physical energy. Furthermore, extreme stress may challenge traits of resilience such as hope and forgiveness.
Although specific amounts of stress may boost performance, studies have found that excessive stress can significantly impact physical and mental health. Stress has been associated with muscle tension, headache, backache, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, autoimmune disease, obesity, cardiovascular diseases (heart disease), and other health issues.
A technique of stress management known as mindfulness has gained popularity recently. Increasing your awareness of the present moment – your thoughts, feelings, and the world around you – can improve your mental health.
The practice of mindfulness
The definition of mindfulness is “a moment-to-moment awareness, cultivated by purposefully paying attention to the present moment, with a non-judging, non-striving attitude of acceptance.”
Did you realise that it is easy to become disconnected from how our bodies feel and find ourselves living "in our heads"? We are preoccupied with our thoughts without pausing to consider how they shape our emotions and behaviour.
The practice of mindfulness is about gently retraining the mind to focus on the present moment. It is also about developing the ability to be aware and attentive in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
It is similar to becoming a parent to your mind instead of allowing it to control you. It is neither required nor possible to clear the mind of thoughts. The brain is an organ whose function is to think, and this cannot be prevented. However, you can train your mind to be still by repeatedly practising mindfulness with self-compassion and patience.
The benefits of mindfulness
Mindfulness and meditation may help with the following:
- Reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
- Improve well being
- Improve cognitive ability
- Have better relationships
- Regulate emotions effectively
- Decrease reliance on unhealthy coping mechanisms
When we become more mindful of the present, we begin to appreciate things we previously took for granted. Mindfulness also enables us to become more aware of our thoughts and emotions and see how we can become entangled in unhelpful ways. This allows us to take a step back from our thoughts and begin to notice their patterns. Over time, we can train ourselves to recognise the thoughts dominating us and realise thoughts are just 'mental events" that do not dictate our actions.
The practice of mindfulness can improve our ability to deal with challenges effectively. We may wonder, “Is it useful to attempt to resolve this by ruminating about it or am I just becoming lost in my thought?”
Mindfulness is a way of living. It does not eliminate stress or challenging situations; instead, this awareness would help us identify signs of anxiety or stress earlier and cope with them better.
Tips to practice mindfulness
Mindfulness begins with reminding yourself to observe your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and the world around you.
- Pay attention
- Notice the sensation of things in your daily life; for example, the air you breathe, the food you eat, the texture of the grass, or the sound of traffic.
- Be consistent
- Select a regular time, such as the commute to work in the morning or a lunchtime stroll, during which you resolve to be mindful of the sensations around you.
- Explore new things
- Try a new restaurant or food for lunch or take a different route to your workplace. They can help you see the world in a fresh light.
- Watch your thought
- If you get distracted by your thoughts, accept the presence of the thoughts without judgements. Simply return your focus to what you are doing.
- The goal of mindfulness is not to eliminate thoughts or worries but to recognise them as mental events that come and go. This may seem difficult initially. However, it is achievable with patience and persistence.
Simple exercises to be mindful
Mindfulness can benefit a wide range of populations. It is a relatively simple technique with significant effects on the brain that can improve the quality of life, self-confidence, and tranquilly of those who practice it.
- Sitting meditation
- Sit comfortably on the floor or on a straight-backed chair.
- Focus on your breath and notice the sensations around you, specifically the rise and fall of the chest.
- Whenever you become distracted, simply bring back your attention to your breath.
- Five senses
- Notice 5 things you can: see, feel, hear, smell, and taste.
Consider trying out the activities above if you have not. With practice, the exercises enhance our awareness of our thoughts, body, and self. Daily practice is optimal. However, aim to practice at least 3 to 4 times a week for 10 to 15 minutes each day. The key is consistency. A small change is still a worthy change.
Book an appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals
Make mental health a priority and take charge of your health. Book an appointment with us today and speak to a psychologist to learn more about mindfulness.
- National Health Services. Mindfulness. Available at https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/tips-and-support/mindfulness/
- Harvard University. Mindfulness. Available at https://www.harvard.edu/in-focus/mindfulness-meditation/
- Naik P, Harris VW, Forthun LF. Mindfulness: An Introduction. September 2013.