Mindfulness has developed in popularity in recent years and is often recommended as a stress management tool or to help improve mental health. Mindfulness is defined as the technique or state where humans are fully aware and conscious of their present state. There is an emphasis on being fully present in what you are doing, where you are, what you are feeling and thinking. An important element of mindfulness is whilst being highly aware, not to react, judge or be overwhelmed by what is happening. It has links to Buddhist practices of developing consciousness within and around oneself.
How can it help us?
There is a wealth of research that highlights the effectiveness of practising mindfulness for overall wellbeing. It has been shown that mindfulness can change our brain and biology in powerful ways to improve both mental and physical health.
Mindfulness can reduce rumination, stress and anxiety as well as increase self-awareness, compassion and empathy. Research has found a direct correlation between time spent practising mindfulness and reduction in stress-related symptoms and increase in general wellbeing.
Mindfulness has the power to encourage us to become more aware of the present which will help us appreciate and enjoy the world around us, that we may have previously taken for granted. Mindfulness can also increase our understanding of ourselves. We can take a step back from our thoughts and begin to see any patterns within our thought processes. This can help us notice when our thoughts begin to take over and know that they don’t need to have control over us. Practising mindfulness means we can increase our awareness, meaning we can notice signs of stress and anxiety sooner. By having an increased awareness we are in a position to be able to deal with these signs more effectively and put in place tools for ourselves to do so.
Mindfulness has the ability to help us physically too. It is able to dial down the body’s response to stress. Stress can hugely impair our immune system as well as make other health problems worse. By reducing stress and our body’s response to it, mindfulness has the potential to have a hugely positive impact on our body and overall health.
How can we practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness has two main parts: attention and acceptance.
Attention is about becoming more aware of the present moment by focusing on what is happening and how you are feeling. This can be done by directing your attention to your surroundings, breathing and thoughts as well as the physical sensations in your body and the feelings you are experiencing.
Acceptance involves observing all those feelings you are focusing your awareness on. It is important to observe these without judgement and to accept them as they are. There is no need to respond or react to them, the aim is simply to recognise them, accept them, and then let them go.
There are many ways in which you can incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life. Being more mindful during everyday activities can be incredibly effective but we also recommend taking some time out of your day to practice mindfulness.
Here are some of the WithU team’s favourite mindfulness activities:
Art and puzzles:
Any form of art such as colouring or drawing, or puzzles such as jigsaws can be great mindfulness activities. They often require a lot of focus on what you are doing without much distraction so it is a great way to be present and de-stress.
Breathing exercises encourage you to focus on your body as well as your thoughts and feelings, bringing your awareness into the present moment. By focusing solely on breathing you can remove any distractions, stop any rumination or overthinking, and also release any physical symptoms of stress or anxiety. Why not try our breathwork sessions on the WithU app: Breath Work and Breathe Deeply.
Yoga, and any physical exercise, is a great way to practice mindfulness. Yoga can help you become more connected to your body by increasing your awareness of your body, its sensations as well as your thoughts and feelings. The WithU app has a whole wealth of yoga workouts from beginner to advanced, whatever your level, there is something for you.
The opposite of multi-tasking, single-tasking is where you focus on just one thing at a time. It increases your awareness of just one task that you are completing. It can help free up a lot of your mental space, reduce overwhelm and may even help create a better focus on the task at hand. In order to get even more out of single-tasking, as you are doing it, we recommend focusing on how you are breathing and how your body feels.
Meditation is an amazing way to practice mindfulness. Different types of meditation will support mindfulness in different ways. Meditation that focuses on your body and any physical sensations you may be feeling, such as a Body Scan, will help you feel present and aware of your physical self. By bringing your awareness to your body, you can reduce your overthinking by taking focus away from your thoughts and recentre you with your physical self. Other mediations, such as a Walking Meditation encourage you to become more aware of the physical world around you and how it feels to walk around outside.
Let us know how you like to practice mindfulness over on social media @withutraining.
American Psychological Association. (2019, October 30). Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation
Carmody, J., Baer, R.A. Relationships between mindfulness practise and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. J Behav Med 31, 23–33 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7
Chiesa, A. and Serretti, A. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Stress Management in Healthy People: A Review and Meta-Analysis. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. May 2009. Pp.593-600. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2008.0495
Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0022-3999(03)00573-7
Mind. (2018, June). Mindfulness. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/mindfulness/about-mindfulness/
NHS website. (2021, February 26). Mindfulness. NHS UK. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/tips-and-support/mindfulness/