What do most people think of when they hear the word, ‘mindfulness’? You have to be a yoga goddess who only eats kale to practise it? You have to post pictures of mountains on Instagram with #vegan #yogi #meditation?
Mindfulness is in fact a tradition rooted in Buddhist philosophy and has been practiced for two and half thousand years. However it is proven to be effective with or without religious context, and is often taught in a secular context.
We think mindfulness isn’t for us because:
‘I’m not very good at meditation’
‘It’s for religious people’
‘I don’t have time’
‘It won’t work for me’
So let’s have a quick look at an online description, and some facts:
- People who practise meditation experience decreased levels of anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability.
- Improves your memory, reaction times and stamina.
- Mindfulness can reduce pain and any emotional reactions to it; trials show that average pain ‘unpleasantness’ can be lowered by 57%.
- Clinical trials show that mindfulness improves mood and quality of life.
- Mindfulness is ATLEAST as good as drugs or counselling for clinical depression.
- Mindfulness reduces addictive behaviour.
- Improves the immune system.
- Improves heart health and reduces blood pressure.
So basically, mindfulness can improve pretty much everything in your life with regular practise, and anyone can do it by setting aside just ten minutes of their day.
I used to be a mindfulness sceptic. I couldn’t be bothered to practise it, I didn’t think it could possibly make an improvement in my life, I was quite happy to try to reduce my stress levels by binge watching ‘RuPaul’s drag race’ and eating kettle chips.
As therapeutic as those things are, distracting your mind to try and escape from feelings of anxiety, does not actually do anything to alleviate them. Mindfulness has taught me some really important ways of dealing with stress and anxiety, and I would go so far as to say that it has been the main turning point in my coping with my second year of university without any major breakdowns. So for anyone thinking of taking on #mindfulmay, (yes we are using hashtags, we apologise), I’m going to do a quick rundown of what mindfulness has taught me, and how it has helped my mental wellbeing.
- Lesson number one: ACCEPTANCE AND NON JUDGEMENT.
The first lesson I learnt from mindfulness, was that I do not have to be good at meditation to benefit from mindfulness. Acceptance of all situations, emotions and feelings is one of the most importance aspects of mindfulness, and yes, this includes accepting your inability to ‘clear your mind’! Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind, it’s about actually experiencing, fully feeling everything that goes on in your head and learning to accept it. By noticing and being mindful of what is going on in your head, by accepting it no matter what it is without judgement, we can reduce our reactions of anxiety to what we feel.
- Lesson number two: IMPERMANENCE.
The second thing to learn from mindfulness, after we’ve experienced our emotions with acceptance and non-judgement, is the knowledge that these feelings are impermanent. Accepting that everything passes, truly accepting that nothing will last forever, has helped me immeasurably. Even when you are experiencing your worst lows, it is okay to sit and experience those lows, in knowledge that they will pass. Again, this helps to reduce your reactivity to your external circumstances.
- Lesson number three: BEING IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.
This is perhaps the most well-known premise of mindfulness. When you practise, your guided meditation will help you to focus on the present moment, whilst watching the usual noise of your thoughts pass by like clouds. When you’ve learnt to react to your thoughts with acceptance and non-judgement, you can let them pass you by, watching them with mild interest instead of being caught up. One of the first metaphors my mindfulness app (The calm app) gave me which stuck with me, was the picture of a river. When you meditate, you sit next to the river and watch it go by without being swept away by it. Your thoughts are still there, they don’t need to be pushed away, but they don’t rule you, you rule them.
For me, mindfulness has genuinely improved my day to day wellbeing. I don’t want to tell anyone that it is a miracle cure for depression and anxiety, because it isn’t and it doesn’t work for everyone, but for only ten minutes or so a day, it’s surely worth a try. Exam period is often the most stressful time of year for students, and so I will be making sure to continue my mindfulness practise every day to cope with the coming month. For anyone who wants to join me, sign up to our #mindfulmay mailing list for daily reminders J
We at Heads Up wish you the best of luck, and want to remind you that no exam is more important than your mental health. Look after yourselves this exam season, in whichever way works best for you!