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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness can be a powerful tool for taking control of your thoughts, enabling you to concentrate on the positive and filter out the negative, and with practice, you’ll find it helps greatly to ease anxiety and stress.  

It is essentially about concentrating on the ‘now’. Which may sound a little strange - right? But it’s about taking the time to focus on our senses, paying attention to what we are feeling and being in the present moment, kind of like a simpler version of meditation. 

By being more aware of where we are, by noticing what we are doing and what we are thinking, we can actually have greater control of our lives by changing the way we react to situations, other people’s emotions and other external influences. 

You know how sometimes you’re watching Netflix but you’re also on your phone, and then suddenly the movie or episode is over but you don’t even remember what it was about? Or that block of chocolate you were just going to have a couple of nibbles of is actually all gone, but you can’t remember what it tasted like? Or saying something and then thinking- I didn’t really mean to say that. Mindfulness would be about giving Netflix your full attention with no distractions, or eating the chocolate while only thinking about how delicious it is, or being more deliberate with words we use - because you will only gain the maximum enjoyment from these activities by focusing on one thing at a time.

Why should I practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness means taking check of your thoughts, becoming more aware of how external influences (people/environments) impact on your wellbeing, and gaining insights into ways we can better control our own emotions.

Which is why understanding mindfulness and how to use it effectively in your everyday life can be a really easy way (once you get the hang of it) to reduce your experience of worry and anxiety.

The reason it is called ‘practicing’ mindfulness is because it is actually a skill we need to learn and continue to repeat on a regular basis - so it can be most useful when we need it most.

Think of mindfulness as a way of reprogramming your thoughts, so if you’re put in a stressful situation, or you’re worrying a lot about the future, you can tap into a more calm, positive frame of mind.

5 ways to be more ‘mindful’

Practicing mindfulness involves grounding yourself in the present moment, taking in what’s around you but also being aware of what is happening in your body physically. Try these simple ways to experience being mindful:

  • Focus on your breathing, filling up your lungs instead of your stomach. Breathe in for 10 seconds, hold for 10 seconds and breathe out for 10 seconds - and repeat until you feel more relaxed.
  • Use your senses by appreciating what you see, smell, hear and feel - this works particularly well if you’re outside. If you are in a stressful situation, close your eyes and think of a place you always feel happy (perhaps the beach, or at home with family) and imagine all of those aspects, what you would see, feel, smell and hear if you were there right now.
  • Feeling creative? Writing in a journal or drawing is a great way of really zoning in on your current situation.
    At a concert or with friends/family - put your phone away. Just focus on being there, in the moment, taking everything in and really connecting with those around you.
  • Do one thing at a time and try to just concentrate on that task or activity before worrying about what you need to do next.

Mindfulness in times of distress

Mindfulness is a great tool for everyone to use in their everyday life, but is particularly helpful if you’re feeling sad, worried and/or distressed.

Our brains can do amazing things, but they can also take over our lives without us even knowing it - telling us that just because someone couldn’t come to your party, it means they don’t like you, or that if you fail your exam, you’ll never get your dream job. When in actual fact, neither of these things are true!

Mindfulness can help to slow the brain from getting caught up with these negative thought patterns and dread about what the future may hold, so it is certainly another tool for promoting good mental health (alongside support from your doctor and other health care professionals).

Check out our other section - Mental Health & Wellbeing - to understand a little bit more about looking after both your body and your mind.

Key websites

Health Navigator - Find out how to develop a mindfulness practice you can use on a daily basis.

Headspace - Headspace has a wealth of knowledge about all kinds of ways to be mindful and how to achieve good mental health. It is also an app you can have on your phone.

Youthline - 3 quick, easy mindfulness techniques to try.

Mental Health – How to be more mindful - From connecting with nature to being mindful with how you use technology and social media, here’s an amazing, thorough list of all the different ways you can practice mindfulness.