It is said that if you have depression, you are living in the past, and if you have anxiety, you are living in the future. Living in our heads so much is detrimental to mental wellbeing, and the chances are, if you have a mental health problem, you do enough of that already.
We all get caught up in constant streams of thoughts and we don’t realise how much this impacts negatively upon our emotions and behaviour.
A lot of people could benefit from living in the present moment, being more aware of their thoughts and feelings, and being better able to manage them. This is where mindfulness comes in.
What is mindfulness?
It’s a mind/body based practise that has its roots in ancient meditative teachings, though its effectiveness is backed up by up to date research.
It has been found to reduce the recurrence of depression by 40-50% in people who have suffered from 3 or more depressive episodes*, it was found in one study to be as effective as antidepressants in preventing a relapse in depressive symptoms**, and this has led to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommending it as a treatment in the cases of people who have had 3 or more episodes of depression ***.
Research into the use and efficacy of mindfulness in schools, prisons and the workplace is ongoing.
How does mindfulness work?
By bringing awareness to our thoughts and feelings, it helps us identify unhelpful thought patterns and allows us to see when we are letting our thoughts take over. It helps us see that our thoughts are just thoughts-they don’t control us.
Regular practise promotes clarity of thought and gives us the ability to see an issue for what it is-is it healthy to ruminate about something that we probably can’t control or should we just let it go?
Will mindfulness work for me?
Mindfulness is suitable for anyone who wants to improve their mental wellbeing. It has been shown to be particularly effective in cases of stress, anxiety and depression, but it also works for people who suffer from hypertension, heart disease and chronic pain. With regular practise, it can give you the skills to manage your mental health and overall wellbeing.
Tips for being mindful everyday
– Pay attention to the world around you, notice sensations, sights, smells and tastes.This stops you living your life in your head and on autopilot, as so many of us do.
– Be aware of your thoughts. This isn’t about making your thoughts ‘go away’, it’s about learning to recognise them for what they are-just thoughts. I personally found this difficult, but a practitioner advised me to use imagery; to imagine I was sitting on a riverbank, watching my thoughts flow away downstream. They are thoughts, let them go.
– Don’t live in the past or the future. You can’t change the past, it’s gone. The future hasn’t happened yet. All that exists is the here and now.
Easy mindfulness exercises to try
Some people might be sceptical about mindfulness. I’ve heard it being referred to as ‘airy fairy’ and I’ve seen people scoff at the idea of meditation. But often, when people are persuaded to try it, and they have seen for themselves how their lives have been improved by being able to control their emotions and reactions, they never look back.
* Crane C et al, ‘Staying Well After Depression’ Behaviour Research and Therapy,2014.
** Williams et al, ‘ Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for Preventing Relapse in Recurrent Depression’ Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 2013.
*** NICE Guidelines for the Management of Depression (2004,2009).