In this modern, ever-developing and fast paced world that we live in, we are often expected to balance so many different things: being a good parent; eating healthily; being great at our job; the list is endless.
Often with all these expectations we can find ourselves becoming mindless in our actions and going into ‘automatic pilot’.
How often have you driven to your destination to find that you can’t remember how you got there? Or similarly taken the last bite of your sandwich to find yourself wondering where it has gone? These are both examples of when our minds go into ‘automatic pilot’. Eating mindlessly may not be so much of a problem but when our minds are in automatic pilot it can very often affect our actions with the bigger things in life that really do matter.
For example, responding to your partner in an automatic, habitual and, at times, even unhelpful way can easily lead to a pattern of negative communication. The same applies for how we might respond in the workplace under stress. For those of us working with the most vulnerable in society, it is even more important that the actions we take are made with a conscious mind rather than a mindless one. This blog provides a brief introduction to mindfulness with some tips of how you can start implementing this practice in your own life.
Mindfulness has its origins in the ancient meditation practices of Buddhism but tends to be used as a non-religious approach. The founder of modern Mindfulness is Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970s. Since then, over 18,000 people have completed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme to help with conditions as diverse as chronic pain, heart disease, anxiety, psoriasis, sleep problems and depression. In the 1990s Professor Mark Williams, Dr John Teasdale and Professor Zindel Segal in the UK further developed Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for the treatment of depression, inspired out of the MBSR programme. It is however a practice that is seen to be impacting positively upon a wide range of fields including managing eating disorders (Baer, Kristeller and Quillian-Wolever, 2006), pregnancy and child birth (Vieten and Astin, 2008), and work-related stress (Wolever, R et al, 2012).
So with the ever-growing evidence base that mindfulness can have positive effects on your life, what can you do to start implementing these practices? Mindfulness tends to sit under two different categories of formal and informal practices. Formal practices involve following, for example, a guided meditation. Websites, such as headspace.com support modern day mindfulness sessions that are easily accessible.
Mindfulness does not have to involve sitting uncomfortably for long periods of time and does not mean that you will turn into a hippie! It can be about giving yourself space in the day without the distractions of your phone or television to just sit and be. It can be applied to so many aspects of day-to-day living, such as allowing yourself ten minutes to sit down and eat your lunch being aware of what your food tastes like, how it feels in your mouth and what it smells like, without the distractions of social media and television. Working in schools, time to yourself is rare but taking this time promotes the importance of an ethos of being kind to yourself and looking after yourself. From personal experience over time it has enabled me to develop a more balanced and considered approach to day-to-day stresses.
There is much research promoting the use of mindfulness in schools. For example, mindfulness-based interventions in schools have contributed to show positive outcomes in improving children’s cognitive performance and resilience to stress (Zenner, Herrnleben-Kurz and Walach, 2014). However in order to teach it, I would recommend practising it yourself to ensure we keep our children and young people safe. So why not have a go and make a conscious decision to do something in your day mindfully? It can be as simple as mindfully taking a walk, brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea. See what is there – good or bad and just go with it.
Minds wander - that’s what they do - but bring yourself back to the present moment and be kind to yourself in the process. You may find that your life becomes calmer, that you are better able to make good decisions and that you feel a greater positive sense of wellbeing.
Baer, R.A, Kristeller, J.L. and R. Quillian-Wolever (2006) ‘Mindfulness based approaches to eating disorders,’ Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness, pp.259-287. Springer: New York.
Vieten, C. and Astin, J (2008) “Effects of a mindfulness-based intervention during pregnancy on prenatal stress and mood: results of a pilot study.” Archives of Women’s Mental Health, 11, 67-74.
Wolever, R et al (2008) “Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: A randomized controlled trial,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2012.
Zenner, C., Herrnleben-Kurz, S. and Walach, H. (2014). Mindfulness-based interventions in schools – a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (1), 1-20.