For around 5 years, I have felt the tug of mild anxiety and depression in my daily life. It can feel like your body has incarcerated parts of your mind for a time. And it often leads me to fixating on why I can’t seem to do this task or tackle that problem with the speed or efficiency I would like to, or indeed do them at all! Many of us are hounded by such feelings and thoughts, and we can find them difficult to silence. Our world is busy. Our minds are often cluttered. The cycle of procrastination leading to guilt and worry and swiftly followed by more procrastination is a regular result of this mental untidiness in my life. The most effective way I have found to clear up the clutter is by practising mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is about acknowledging your thoughts and feelings as they come and go. The brilliant UK based company Headspace describes these thoughts as like cars on a roadway which you feel compelled to chase after. Mindfulness preaches that we should treat these thoughts like watching clouds in the sky – by accepting that they are here, appreciating them for what they are and letting them pass. It is incredible how drastic the difference this simple approach makes to the relationship we have to our thoughts. We no longer view our thoughts as intruders coming to burgle our productivity or sap our mental energy. It can often be as peaceful an experience as watching the stars at night or laying on a quiet beach.
It does not take a long time for positive benefits to emerge from practising mindfulness meditation. One study showed that as low as four sessions were found to have increased the attention, mood, and working memory of the participants, as well as lowered anxiety. Indeed, there are many benefits to practising mindfulness. And with practice, the act of mindfulness can become almost automatic. In many ways, mindfulness meditation is to our mind as physical exercise is to our body. By training the muscles of attention, we can experience these benefits passively. Taking some time to meditate can be as important for a healthy lifestyle as maintaining a good diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep!
Finally, meditation is far simpler than you think. All you need is a comfortable seat in a quiet space and as little as 5 minutes. Guided meditations, where an instructor talks you through the steps of breathing and practising mindfulness, are incredibly useful for a beginner. I highly recommend the Headspace app, Sam Harris’s Waking Up app or any of the guided meditations on mindful.org that you find relevant.
Happy mental health awareness week! Stay healthy and stay safe,