Welcome to the 21st Century.
2018 has some great things: smart phones, smart TV’s, smart meters. Technology may be smarter than ever, but are our minds?
Everyday we are experiencing more demanding strains on our time, body and most importantly our minds - and in our persistent pursuit of 'perfection' we often forget the things that are most important to our wellbeing.
The perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect home, the perfect partner, the perfect friendship group… we chase all of these things without taking the time to properly evaluate and care for ourselves through sleep, what we eat and our all round phyiscal and mental health. When in actual fact, this perilous proxy perseverance draws us further and further from what we are actually aiming to achieve.
Whilst eating well and exercising is important, we seem to forget something far greater in importance, our mind. For in-fact this is actually where we should start to achieve true health. As once the ability to maintain a healthy mind is mastered the other components will fall into place naturally.
Looking after yourself allows you to not only look after you but others others as well and even the environment around you. A strong mind can help you to control your future and the future of the planet whilst eradicating anxiety, receiving stress and improving sleep.
One fantastic tool to set you on your way is the practice of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is nothing more than allowing yourself to be in the present.
This sounds simple, and really it is. Although in the current global climate, it can be very difficult. Being in the present means allowing all other problems to disintegrate into nothing whilst everything that you are becomes all that 'is'.
Connecting with yourself in this way is empowering as it allows you to see the beauty within yourself without the masking of modern day problems. For example, if you were to be scrolling through Instagram at 9pm at night, you may see a whole range of activities others have done and subconsciously comparing yourself via the fact that you are not doing those things yourself. When in actual fact, if you took that 15 minutes of surfing time to focus on nothing but yourself - you may find you have a lot more within.
This isn’t, though, always the case. You may begin to find things that you are not happy with, but this is in itself is still positive. Why? Because is means you have allowed yourself the time to see and feel things that may not be your strength and therefore allows you the knowledge that it may be something you could work on. Utilising this knowledge, you can help you help yourself to strengthen the mind.
Mark Williams is a professor of clinical psychology at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre and he explains how it is "easy to stop noticing the world around us. It’s also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living ‘in our heads’ – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour”
Whatever your personal situation, practicing mindfulness may be a helpful additional tool to boost your overall wellbeing. It can allow us to "become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience"
Mindfulness has also been proven to improve focus and relieve feelings of stress and anxiety and the NHS recognises mindfulness as a useful tool to help improve mental health - alongside other appropriate treatments. (Of course if you are experiencing serious mental health issues, it is important to consider seeking help from a professional in addition to any attempted self-remedies.)
So, what does it mean to be mindful?
It is all to easy to get caught up in the stress, pressures and rush of modern life. Mindfulness is about taking the time to slow down, pause and engage your senses in the world around you - whether this be taking the time to smell fresh air, taste and appreciate your food, listen to others, notice the feeling of your body touching a chair or bed while meditating, or really 'seeing' the things you look at.
1. Being present in the moment
All too often we may be on autopilot. We get into a car and drive the same route that we know so well we could do it with our eyes closed - and sometimes we might as well be. Have you ever walked or driven somewhere either absent-mindedly, completely tied up in a thought and suddenly not been able to actually recall the minutes prior?
Our minds our so busy and there is so much to think about.
One challenge to set yourself might be to focus on each task at hand. If you are eating, focus on eating. If you are talking, focus on the words that you are saying. If you are engaged in a conversation, allow that person your full attention.
Try to also take the time to appreciate the environment around you. When you walk outside, look up at the sky, not down at your phone. Notice the sounds of the birds, the children playing, the cars whizzing past.
2. Eat mindfully
Take the time to taste and appreciate your food.
Try not to get caught up in too many distractions, this could be eating whilst working, watching TV or scrolling through your phone.
A famous experiment to introduce people to mindful eating was the raisin experiment. This guidance involved slowing down completely to fully appreciate every sense involved in eating a simple raisin.
Eating mindfully, rather than absent-mindedly, can also allow your body to understand when you are full and to avoid over-eating.
3. Mindfulness meditation
A great place to start with mindfulness is by taking ten minutes out of your day to practice a guided meditation in a quiet place. There are several great apps out there to help guide you. From basic breathing exercises and guided 'body scans' to daily sessions on topics ranging from anxiety and stress to sleep and self-care.
From personal experiences, guided meditations have helped to slow down my mind in the moment. They allow for the acknowledgement of thoughts and feelings without self-judgement.
This practice does take some getting used to. The first time I came across a guided meditation was in a group hour-long session held weekly at my University and I fell asleep during it every single week, without fail.
When practicing using the apps, it was difficult at times to even focus on the meditation itself due to my racing thoughts, however with time and patience, it became one of the most useful tools I have found to help manage internal conflicts.
By increasing awareness of internal mental and physical states, mindfulness can help people gain a greater sense of control over their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour in the present moment.
There are a wide range of useful apps to get you started - below are two that we have found to be extremely useful.