Mindfulness is known to have many beneficial effects on health and wellbeing, including reduced stress, reduced anxiety and improved mood. By regularly practising mindfulness, people learn to be more present in the ‘here and now’, to be more tolerant and accepting of their experiences, and to be kinder to themselves.
Being ‘mindful’ is like being a curious scientist carefully observing what is unfolding in your mind, your body and around you, and how it all links together. Practising mindfulness can help you develop:
Curiosity (vs judgment and criticism)
Awareness (vs autopilot and detachment)
Acceptance (vs avoidance and suppression)
Responding (vs reacting out of habit)
Mindfulness is a skill, and like all skills, it needs to be practised regularly! Research studies show that regular mindfulness practice (including meditation) helps improve mood and concentration, as well as reduce stress, anxiety and worry. To get the most benefit you should practise daily, and not go more than two days back-to-back without some kind of mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness has three main qualities:
Living in the moment
Acknowledging and accepting what is, and
Being kind to yourself
When embarking on mindfulness practice, it’s important to learn to recognise how you react to things when you feel stressed. Most people react in ‘autopilot mode’ which often means getting stuck in unhelpful patterns of thinking and acting. In autopilot, you may go about your day consumed by thoughts and worries, rather than being focused on what you are doing. You may feel irritable, tense, worried or frustrated, or you may judge yourself as weak, stupid or even worthless because you can’t control your feelings. Mindfulness can make you aware of these unhelpful patterns, and help you find a way to respond to whatever is stressing you rather than get caught up in it.
When you develop mindfulness skills, you’ll be able to create a calm space in your mind, from which you can observe what’s happening and choose to respond effectively, rather than react out of habit.
A simple way to get started on your mindfulness is through a 3-minute breathing exercise. This helps you understand what it’s really like to pause and be still and try to only focus on your breathing. Invariably when you do this, you’ll find thoughts entering your mind. This is normal, but rather than judging yourself about your thoughts wandering, you’ll learn to practise being curious about your mind rather than criticising, blaming or getting frustrated with it for wandering off. For best results, the 3-minute breathing practice should be done three times a day.
You can also apply mindfulness to other everyday activities such as eating, showering or getting dressed.
This article is based upon the first learning module in the ‘Introduction to Mindfulness’ course from THIS WAY UP. If you found it useful, we’d recommend you sign up for the rest of the 4-lesson course designed for people who are interested in learning about mindfulness and meditation.
THIS WAY UP is a trusted Australian provider of evidence-based, internet-delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (iCBT) programs.
As a not-for-profit and joint initiative of St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales, its mission is to reduce the burden of mental illness by providing accessible online treatment for anxiety disorders and related mental health conditions.
THIS WAY UP is funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing under the Telephone Counselling, Self Help and Web-Based Support Programs.