Mindfulness, I am sure you have heard this term a lot if you have been looking to reduce stress or improve your life in some way.
What is Mindfulness?
The most basic definition is that it is being aware of your surroundings, thoughts and physical sensations. It is being aware of all of these things and accepting them for what they are, allowing things to happen as if separate from them. This is not forcing thoughts or feelings to happen or hiding from any things that you don’t like.
Is this something new?
Not at all, it has been around for thousands of years and is believed to be of Buddhist origin. It has been found to be beneficial for reducing stress, anxiety and depression. It has even been shown to be beneficial in some physical conditions. More recently in western medicine it has been used in treatments such as Mindfulness Stress Based Reduction (MSBR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). You can even check out the NHS website to see what they say about it. The first is mainly used to treat stress funnily enough and the latter is mainly used to treat depression. So although the practice is not a new thing we are finding new ways to use it. Many of you have, I’m sure seen colouring books in the shops full of pictures like this. (You could always copy this image, print it and give it a try if you like.)
How can this possible help me?
These pictures are not just a way to regress back to our childhood and remember what it was like to sit around and colour in pictures. They have a dual purpose. Firstly by focussing your attention of the act of colouring the picture you are reducing or eliminating your focus on the other things in your life. If these external things are of great stress, anxiety or depression for you then this is a great thing. ( This concentrated focus, I think, is why the parts of the picture are usually made up of lots of small parts forcing you to concentrate harder on colouring them in.)
Secondly they are activating the creative areas of your brain. As I’ve said on my previous posts when your body gets stressed/frightened it goes in to a mode known as “fight or flight”. This concentrates your body to do one of these things. It increases muscle strength, increases your senses and gets you in to your best state to survive. To do this it must also increase your heart rate, over tense your muscles, increase your blood pressure and adrenaline, increases your breath rate and puts other strains on your body. Great for short bursts but awful long term. What also happens is that it reduces other areas, it reduces your digestion and shuts off areas of your brain that are not essential to fight or to run. This includes the creative areas of your brain. Your body will only do what it knows, it won’t spend time thinking about its actions and finding the best way to solve the problem. ( I’ve seen this in action with badgers, when frightened they know that home is safe and so they run towards it – even if these means running down the middle of the road in front of the car that scared it. If it thought about it, the badger would just get out of the way of the car). You do have control over your body and thoughts, for example you breath without thinking but you can also speed it up or slow it down at will. Research has found that if you get your body to go against the fight or flight reactions it will relax. These colouring pages work on reactivating the creative centres of your brain, this gets the body to reduce its stress reactions and should reduce your blood pressure, breathing, heart rate and tension. Great isn’t it!
Is that what mindfulness is then?
It is a way to be mindful of the picture you are concentrating on but it isn’t mindfulness in its true sense. Mindfulness is about being in the moment and being aware of what is happening right now. It is not about ignoring the things in your life but taking the time to look at them in a different way. It can be used to help you get in to the right state of mind to practice mindfulness but cannot replace it.
To me mindfulness is like looking at your body from the inside and your thoughts and surroundings from the outside. I’ll tell you what I mean. During mindfulness you feel all parts of your body, your breathing, your heart rate, the tension in your muscles, the air around you and even the physical feelings of things around you like the floor under your feet or the bed you are lying on (depending on how and where you choose to practise this.) t has also been found in studies that people with pain find that if they acknowledge their pain but then refocus on the other parts of their body find that their pain is reduced. In this practice you will also be able to see your life/situation/problems from the outside. If someone else was facing them, what would you tell them to do? You are able to use the creative parts of your brain to think about the problems and see the best way to approach them. You may even find that the answers that you have been unable to find start to reveal themselves.
In short, mindfulness can help so give it a try.