Finding Calm and Stability with Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a simple, practical skill which helps us with stress reduction, anxiety and low mood, and can help our relationships with ourselves and with others, even in the middle of a full, busy life. It also lowers blood pressure, helps with insomnia, and can help you to learn to cope with any chronic health conditions, for example tinnitus.
Mindfulness has been well-studied
Since the 1980s mindfulness has been taught in widely available well-studied, completely secular 8-week courses. These 8-week programmes are known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT); more variations are being created all the time but the key practice in all of these programmes is one of intentionally paying attention in the moment – mindfulness. Watch here for a short video on some of the neuroscience of mindfulness.
Mindfulness – Paying Attention in the Moment
Mindfulness can be defined as paying attention, in the present moment and with an open, curious mind. It is not complicated – it really possible for everyone. If you can breathe, and notice that you're breathing, you can practice mindfulness! Through practising mindfulness we learn to be fully present with our experience. Research has shown that when we are more present, we feel happier. You can watch a short talk here. By learning to focus one thing at a time, rather than multi-tasking, our stress levels reduce and performance improves. As we are increasingly bombarded by information and endless do-lists, the ability to focus is becoming increasingly important for our sanity.
Stress Reduction Through Mindfulness
By regularly practising mindfulness, our stress 'fight or flight' responses also become weaker. Mindfulness practice reduces the activity of the amygdala , the part of the brain largely responsible for generating stress. Many participants report simply feeling less bothered by problems of all kinds and better able to cope with difficulties. On a more reflective level, we learn to see our habitual reactions to stress and difficulties and respond in a new way rather than doing the same thing again and again. These are both ways in which we can achieve stress reduction by using mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps with anxiety and panic attacks
Stress and anxiety often go together, and mindfulness is helpful for both. It helps with all levels of anxiety, whether it be a long-standing problem or a relatively recent change in your life, and whether it is low-level 'free-floating anxiety', panic attacks or obsessive worrying.
Long-term treatment for depression or low mood
Mindfulness has also been found to be as good as drugs for treating recurrent depression. However if you are currently depressed it is not the right time to do the course; it is better to do it when you are on a more even keel when mindfulness can help you to stay that way and not relapse again.
Mindfulness enables us to get some perspective on our lives.
Practising mindfulness can also help us not to be so dragged around by habitual spiralling thoughts such as self-criticism and catastrophic thinking, which in themselves can fuel anxiety. With mindfulness we learn to detach from thoughts and give them less importance, and give priority to what is really happening rather than what we are worried about.
Mindfulness in the Workplace
The workplace is a major source of stress for many people. Again, mindfulness helps us to cope with workplace stress.
- An introduction to some of the current meditation research.
- A study of the effectiveness of MBSR in treating anxiety three years after the course.
- Scientific report on an experiment at the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience at the Universtiy of Wisconsin, Madison where employees at a biotech company had their brain function monitored before and after an eight week MBSR course.