Mindfulness and Mental Health

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Today we are looking at what exactly mindfulness is, and how does it work for improving your mental health?

Eight months on from the first lockdown and data shows us that Covid-19 has not been the same for all.

Here in the UK, three out of four people reported a change in their wellbeing.1 Half of those experiencing a positive impact spent extra time focusing on sleep, eating healthily and their families.

The impact on the other half has been negative with a disproportionate effect on women and ethnic minority groups.2 These diverging, and very different, experiences of the crisis are clearly shown in the data.

There has also been a positive focus on mental health. Whilst this is good news, it is likely driven by the increased stress and strain felt by many.

It is more important than ever to consider the importance of taking care of your mental health wellbeing.

Mindfulness and Mental Health

You may have heard the term ‘mindfulness’ bounced around in mental health discussions. But what is mindfulness, and how does it work for improving your mental health?

Let’s take a look!

Rebecca’s Mental Health Story

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of calmly, and attentively, focusing your awareness inward.

Bring your thoughts to everything you’re thinking, feeling and sensing with your body and your surrounding right now.

By doing this, you divert your attention away from the past and future. Instead, you tune into the present moment, to better process and accept what you’re thinking and experiencing.

The idea being that you are free from distraction or judgement.

How does mindfulness work?

Mindfulness can work in a number of ways. From working through emotional pain and fear, to physically helping your body relax and develop a better stress response.

Changing harmful mindsets

By allowing you to thoroughly unpack and explore your thought patterns, and the emotions attached, mindfulness can provide you the space to re-orient your mindset and challenge harmful or limiting beliefs.

Lowering your brain’s frequency

Mindfulness can help shift your brain’s frequency from high to low. This activates different areas of the brain that control emotions and sensations such as fear, anxiety and empathy.

When your brain is operating on a lower frequency, you gain the ability to rationalise your thoughts and sensations. This then slows down your body’s stress response to situations.

Changing the shape of your brain

A significant number of neuroimaging studies have shown that mindfulness meditation increases the density of ‘grey matter’ in your brain. This is essentially your brain’s executive manager of functioning.

It is involved in the regulation of emotions, problem-solving, rational thought and planning. The more matter, the better!

Improving your physical health

Mindfulness techniques not only affect your brain, but also your ‘fight or flight’ response. By focusing on breathing, reducing muscle tension and relieving stress, the long-term physical health benefits speak for themselves.

Your body works overtime to produce stress hormones when responding to fear and anxiety, or losing sleep. Mindfulness can therefore improve your blood pressure, heart health, cholesterol, sleep quality and digestive health.

Mindfulness and Meditation for Mental Health Wellbeing at NIHP Durham
Photo Credit: John Hain

What are some mindfulness techniques?

Be still, and focus

Find somewhere to sit in silence. Begin focusing on slowing and regulating your breathing. Pay attention to the other physical sensations in your body and allowing their presence.

Let thoughts and feelings pass without judgement

With each thought that arises, acknowledge and accept it regardless of its nature. Then, simply let it pass without judgement or focusing obsessively on it.

Allow yourself to feel the emotions you’re feeling, then let them go without dwelling or judging.

Pay attention to your senses and surroundings

Experience the sights, smells and other sensations going on around you. Stay focussed on your thoughts and physical sensations, then simply let them pass.

You can find a vast array of free mindfulness tools and resources online at FreeMindfulness.org.

This article was originally published in the Town & County magazine for County Durham. Download Mindfulness & Mental Health in PDF format.

Sources:

  • 1 Deloitte, The Impact of Lockdown on Wellbeing & the Economics of Happiness, July 2020.
  • 2 Simetrica-Jacobs and LSE, The Wellbeing Costs of COVID-19 in the UK, May 2020.