Mindfulness – what is it and does it actually make a difference?
Blog by our Office Manager, Rosie Taylor
Mindfulness – it’s a word that’s bandied around a lot these days, isn’t it? Mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful cleaning; you name it; it seems any activity can be done mindfully.
But what is it and does it actually make a difference?
Since the beginning of the first lockdown in March last year, I’ve reduced my hours to 30 a week. Rather than take an extra day off each week, I decided to allow myself the luxury of a bit more time in the morning and finish a bit earlier in the afternoon every day. Not being much of a morning person, I could easily have stayed in bed longer, but instead I decided to do something proactive to look after my mental health (which has its moments!).
I had previously read a helpful book called Ten to Zen by Owen O’Kane, the main premise of which is to set aside 10 minutes every day to do a sort of ‘mental workout’, the theory being that we do exercise to look after our bodies, so why not do the same for our minds. It outlines the different things to do with each of the 10 minutes, e.g. imagining being in a peaceful place, focusing on the breath, challenging unhelpful thoughts and some mindfulness. So with my new found time in the morning, I set about putting this into practice. I actually did it for quite a few months and found it helpful and calming. The problem was, I never managed to stick to 10 minutes – I’d get so carried away imagining myself in a lovely rose garden that the whole exercise became more like half an hour! Other than keep looking at a clock (which seemed to defeat the object!) there were no other clues to help me keep to time. Then a friend told me about the Headspace app which has a whole host of guided mindfulness meditations, which you can do for varying lengths of time, e.g. 10, 15 or 20 minutes and which help you learn to learn the skill of ‘being fully in the present and engaged in the moment, aware of your thoughts or feelings, without distraction or judgement.’
The basic idea is to focus on your breathing and if you get distracted by thoughts and feelings, to acknowledge them and let them go, returning to the breath every time. Doing this creates space between you and your thoughts, meaning you’re not so caught up in them. It sounds really simple but it’s actually quite hard. I decided to sign up (you get a free trial but then you have to pay – I paid £50 for an annual subscription) and have now been doing a 10 minute meditation most mornings for approximately 6 months. There are lots of courses you can do – I started off doing the ‘basics’ course, then went onto ‘managing anxiety’ and am now doing ‘self-esteem’. Andy Puddicombe, who created Headspace and a lot of the meditations on the app, has a very calming voice (but not in an annoying way!), and talks a little at the beginning and end of each session about how to incorporate mindfulness into everyday life, which I find really helpful.
So what are my thoughts on mindfulness six months on?
I find doing timed guided meditations gives me a clear focus and I definitely feel calmer quite a lot of the time and am learning not to take unhelpful thoughts so seriously. I do still get very easily distracted by thoughts though during the meditations – especially what I need to do for work! However, I think the key thing for me has been prioritising time to look after my mind, something I’ve not really done before. And that has made all the difference.