A Brief Introduction to Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that has been shown to help a person enjoy their life more by encouraging them to  pay more attention to the present moment. By being aware of thoughts and feelings in the moment – but learning not to jump to judgemental conclusions about the validity or negative consequences of such thoughts and feelings – a person can become more self-accepting.

Professor Mark Williams, formerly of the Oxford Centre for Mindfulness, promotes mindfulness as a way of recognising when we are letting ourselves become overwhelmed by, or overactive to, our thoughts and being able to stop this by accepting that “thoughts are simply mental events that do not have to control us”.

Mindfulness is a technique that has to be practised in order to be of benefit – help with emotions and thoughts, de-stressing and calming down. Practices such as carving out a slot at the same time every day in which to try out the next session on an app, or practise some breathing exercises, can help integrate mindfulness more permanently into our lives.

Some more specific exercises that may be involved in mindfulness practice are:

  • Noticing how thoughts come and go – and how it is possible to let go of thoughts
  • Noticing how the body responds and feeling how anxiety (for example) affects breathing, muscle tension, etc.
  • Creating space between the self and thoughts, to allow calmer, more measured reactions to thoughts and feelings.

Different techniques work for different people with their different emotional and mental difficulties, so it can be worth exploring different sources of mindfulness and meditation exercises to find ones that best suit. Mindfulness may not help at all for some people – but a person should not fixate on this or become frustrated. It may be a case of persevering a bit longer with some new – or the same – meditations, or finding a completely new approach to maintaining mental wellbeing, such as counselling.

One particular advantage of mindfulness more generally is that it can be done independently via an app or online video, giving people more flexibility when it comes to taking steps to improve their mental health – they do not have to commit to attending appointments, for example.

There are over 2,000 mindfulness apps available for download on a smartphone. However, companies such as Headspace work with clinical experts to develop their mindfulness meditations, which may be one of the reasons why they are currently one of the biggest names in the mindfulness app market.

Mindfulness can be discussed with a GP or mental health clinician as a standalone approach to treating emotional or psychological difficulties, or alongside more formal therapy, such as CBT or IPT. 

Depressionaddiction and other mental health conditions can be treated with a specific type of CBT (a talking therapy) called mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (MCBT). This style of CBT combines the discussions of thought and behaviour patterns with meditation and breathing exercises.

Some employers may also wish to integrate mindfulness, or an introduction to mindfulness course into their duty of care towards employees. Some branches of the charity Mind may offer courses, as well as some private practitioners. As there is ample evidence pointing to long-term benefits, such as stress relief, of regular mindfulness practice in individuals without diagnosed mental health difficulties, it may be to an employer’s advantage to look into encouraging meditation among their workforce.

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