Being mindful is a sense of awareness of ourselves and the world around us, it’s a form of meditation that allows us to focus on our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment by moment.
Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go of and mindfulness can help us notice signs of stress
earlier and help us deal with them positively.
I first came across mindfulness when I read “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh, a book recommended to me by a friend who knew of my phobia of small enclosed spaces and the anxiety I used to experience when traveling on the underground or on a crowded bus. The book explained how to acquire the skills of mindfulness and how once we have these skills, we can use these to break the cycle of negative thoughts and reduce our anxiety.
From 2008 to 2014 I lived in London. Public transport in London is the most accessible and convenient way to travel. For the 6 years that I lived there I had adapted coping strategies that mainly consisted of avoidance, I would bypass the tube in favour of the bus even if it meant that I added an hour to my journey, I would avoid peak time travel so as not to get trapped on a crowded bus where more often than not I would be squeezed under the armpit of a stranger standing in my personal space. There were times; more times than I’m comfortable admitting, where I would have a panic attack and would have to push my way off the tube or bus because I felt nauseous and couldn’t breathe.
Mindfulness taught me to focus on my breathing, to listen and feel every breath that I took and to acknowledge that singular moment. Through breathing techniques I was able to control the symptoms of my anxiety by focusing on the present moment. I would still have negative thoughts but with practice I was able to let these thoughts come and then, let them go.
I don’t feel that I have been “cured”, however mindfulness has given me a positive outlet for the nervous and negative energy that I carry when I’m on public transport – it’s hard to hyperventilate when you are breathing consciously and counting and acknowledging every breathe in every moment.
It’s from this practical and experiential perspective that I recommend and advice my clients to try mindfulness and meditation as a way to break the cycle of negative thoughts that can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Research has shown that being trained to be aware of sensations, thoughts and feelings for 8 to 12 weeks has been shown to enhance well-being for several years. NICE (National Institute of Clinical Evidence) recommends mindfulness based CBT for Depression and supporting public health interventions (weight loss and smoking cessation).
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated, just being present in a moment, any moment can be a start. Take notice the next time you are out walking, feel the breeze, listen to the sounds around you, feel the ground beneath you as you take each step, just be in the moment.
Health and Wellbeing Adviser
Work and Health Programme