“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it” (Ferris Bueller)
A busy job, children and numerous extracurricular activities and playdates, as well as keeping the house in check, can mean it is all too easy to rush through life without stopping to notice anything else. I definitely feel that when stress levels are high, I stop taking in the world around me, lose touch with the way my body is feeling and end up living 'in my head'. Our thoughts drive our emotions and behaviour, and pretty quickly, ideas of a walk during my ‘lunch break’ or yoga before bed seem another task on the never-ending to-do list.
Unfortunately it’s often a crisis or a loss that interrupts the 'autopilot' mode we often fall into, and gives us a new perspective on life. This has certainly been the case for me in recent years. So what can we do to pay more attention to the present moment, to our own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around us, on a daily basis?
You may have heard the term ‘mindfulness’ used to describe this focus on awareness. Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more, understand ourselves better and improve our mental wellbeing. When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience things that we have been taking for granted through fresh eyes.
According to Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre: “An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. Another important part of mindfulness is an awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives. Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: 'Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?' Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress and anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better."
Mindfulness is also recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had 3 or more bouts of depression in the past.
I find both yoga and walking are fantastic for coping with an over-busy mind. You can practise mindfulness anywhere and doing it often is recommended. Why not go somewhere new – for a class, for a walk at lunchtime, for a hike at the weekend – this can also help you notice the world in a new way. Remind yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you. This activity doesn’t have to be done lying down in a dark room listening to whale music, just getting outdoors and walking in nature, breathing deeply while sat at your desk or meditating while sat on your bed can do the trick.
Don’t worry if you feel awkward when you start out, once you get into the habit, you’ll feel so much better and be able to quickly tap into mindfulness as part of your self-care toolkit.
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