This blog by HWBI Ninja Lou Harris, is one in a series exploring how the 10 Keys to Happier Living. Lou explores how mindfulness and noticing can helps to boost our health and wellbeing.
“There’s more to life when you stop and notice”
Learning to be more aware and take notice can positively impact on our wellbeing. The key to taking notice is mindfulness “Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment – free from distraction or judgement, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them” (1).
There are numerous benefits associated with mindfulness on physical health, managing stress, psychological wellbeing, relationships, performance and happiness and a recent study in March (2) found mindfulness buffered the impact of COVID 19.
As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, it is also worth noting that research (3) has shown that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety and depression. “It teaches us how to respond to stress with an awareness of what is happening in the present moment rather than simply acting instinctively, unaware of what emotions or motives may be driving that decision. By teaching awareness for one’s physical and mental state in the moment, mindfulness allows for more adaptative reactions to difficult situations” Anxiety.org (4)
In our busy worlds, it may not be something we practice naturally, however, I wonder how many of us may have had greater opportunity to practise mindfulness over the past few months? You can take a 15 item questionnaire to measure mindfulness called the Mindful Attention Awareness Score (MAAS). The higher your score the greater your ability to be mindful. If you don’t score as high as you would like then don’t worry through practise, we can learn to cultivate the state of mind that lets us be mindful.
Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness and spring is a great time of year to start. There is so much in nature to see, hear and smell for example noticing the colour of the flowers, the birds singing and the smell of new blossom. On my daily dog walk since lockdown, I have noticed ducks and birds that I have never seen before including mandarins, herons and parakeets (yes we do have bright green parakeets in Sefton Park in Liverpool!), flowers including gorgeous miniature daffodils, the smell of the amazing rhododendrons which are vibrant and colourful, all things that I have never really noticed before, despite walking in this park most days for four years with my dog, Indy.
The benefits speak for themselves, and you can start practising mindfulness right away in the comfort of your own home (handy in our current climate!) so why wouldn’t you try it? Positive Psychology has lots of great information which includes 10 tips for practising mindfulness which include:
- Take a few moments to be aware of how your breath flows in and out, how your tummy rises and falls with each breath you take.
- If you are walking somewhere focus on the here and now. Rather than letting your brain drift into thought, bring them back to the physical act of walking. How do you feel? Pay less attention to where you’re going and more on what you’re doing as you step and how your feet feel. This is a nice one to try on sand or grass.
- If you notice yourself turning back towards thinking just focus once more on your breathing. You can return your focus to how your breath comes in and out of your body, and if you can feel your muscles relax as your doing so even better.
- Understand that your mental processes are just thoughts, they aren’t necessarily true, nor do they require you to take action. Mindfulness is about simply being and about being relaxed in accepting things around you as they are. This implies internally too – it’s part of knowing your mind.
- Let yourself notice when your mind drifts back towards judgement. Remember this is only natural and doesn’t have to be part of yourself. Part of mindfulness practise means freeing your mind from practices like judgement. You may find that this becomes easier with time and practise.
As well as practising mindfulness in daily life it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice such as meditation. There is a lot of great support to help you and Action for Happiness and NHS have some great guidance on Mindfulness and how to get started.
HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.