Updated: May 6
Our current situation has obviously had a significant impact on everyone’s level of anxiety, including those who might ordinarily experience very little.
One way of dealing with this anxiety might be through mindfulness, a word now embedded in our modern culture, but what is it exactly and how does it actually help?
Mindfulness comes from Buddhism – a rough translation of the word ‘sati’. In its original Buddhist context, sati essentially captures a kind of present-moment awareness.
In the ancient text known as the Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha lays out the first-ever set of mindfulness instructions, guiding the practitioner to place careful attention on four different aspects – or foundations – of experience:
1. The body (e.g. the breath) 2. Sensations or feelings 3. The mind/consciousness 4. Mental contents
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and in the last 40 years mindfulness has been formalised into the therapies of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). It is found to be most effective for depression and anxiety; there is significant increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion which is generally less active in people who are depressed.
Mindfulness is not fluffy nonsense or silly, nor is it a passing fad. But it does take effort and work to develop mindfulness skills and time to practise them.
Mindfulness can be described as paying attention to what we are experiencing in this moment and doing so with a certain attitude; one of curiosity, openness, acceptance and warmth. Simply observing what we are experiencing, right now, and bringing a warm curiosity to whatever arises.
In formal mindfulness practices, our intention is often to centre our awareness on one particular experience, such as: the sensations involved in breathing, the sounds that we can hear, or to widen our awareness to incorporate a range of experiences simultaneously, or to watch where our attention goes without getting caught up in particular experiences.
Mindfulness is also something that we can bring to any aspect of our day to day life, cultivating the same qualities of curiosity, acceptance and warmth.
When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to encounter things anew that we have been taking for granted.
It aims to help you: • become more self-aware • feel calmer and less stressed • feel more able to choose how to respond to your thoughts and feelings • cope with difficult or unhelpful thoughts • be kinder towards yourself
Some ways to bring more mindfulness into your every day:
1. Turn your ordinary household tasks into mindfulness sessions. As we spend more time at home, we are spending more time on chores but rather than approaching them as something to get done in a hurry, slow down. The next time you have to prepare dinner or do the laundry, focus all of your awareness on the task at hand, in the present moment. Aim to be fully engaged in what you are doing and not caught up in mind chatter or just rushing to the end of your task e.g. as you fold clothes, don’t rush but notice the feel and textures of the fabrics – how fresh they smell.
2. Being mindful when you wash. We have to wash our hands numerous times a day now. As soon as your hands touch the soap, become aware of the smell, the texture, the sensation of your hands rubbing together passing over your skin and as you clean your hands more thoroughly than you ever have before, be mindful of the temperature of the water even the sound it makes. Remember to be mindful of the satisfaction of a job well done!
3. Standing in the queue for the supermarket. This can understandably be cause for anxiety but you can use this as an opportunity for mindfulness. As you set off, you can quietly get ready, being aware of your mood and how it changes at the first glimpse of the queue. Rather than fidgeting impatiently and focussing on worrisome thoughts, focus on how you stand, your breath and where you feel tensions the most as you scan through your body and of course mindful of the 2 metre distance!
Here's a simple exercise you might find useful.