There’s been a lot of talk and media coverage in recent times about mindfulness and its benefits, particularly for our ever busy lives. Is it all it’s cracked up to be or is it another faddy thought process that will soon start to fade away to be replaced by the next shiny new thing?
Mindfulness isn’t a particularly new practice, more a re-labelling and re-education process. Essentially, as the name suggests, it’s a way to be more aware – mindful – of our environment, immediate surroundings, feelings and self.
Exploring what’s going on within ourselves, in terms of feelings, as well as externally.
Think of mindfulness as a way of applying the brakes in your everyday life and simply stopping for a moment or two to consider what is going on either inside you or outside your immediate sphere. Something as simple as noticing the pictures on your wall as you walk past them or looking at the plants in your front garden as you leave the house are examples of being mindful – it’s when you stop and look.
Mindfulness doesn’t require time to be carved out of your day, or a special place to do it, or specific equipment or clothing, it is something any one of us can do. Given the pace of 21st century life and the expectations we heap upon ourselves, it is a habit we could all do with incorporating into our daily routine.
It’s not particularly good for our mental health to have a constantly whirring mind, or to be wholly self-absorbed. Anything that can break the cycle and pace of our frenetic modern lives must be a good thing. Taking some mental time out will give you the head space to revisit thoughts or problems with a clearer mindset.
You can take active steps to incorporate mindfulness into your life. To start, you might like to use the time when you are journeying somewhere, such as walking to the station, and properly look at your surroundings rather than mentally flicking through your in-box.
When at home, take the time to feel fabrics and soft furnishings, the floor beneath your feet or the pillow beneath your head. If you are mulling over a problem, stop and consider how the problem makes you feel – positive because you know you can solve it, or perhaps uncomfortable because you think you can’t do it and will fail?
Don’t forget to be mindful of interactions with other people. How did they make you feel and are you grateful for those opportunities?
Once you are accustomed to being more mindful and have allowed mindfulness into your everyday life, think about setting aside time and making it a more meditative process. For example, sit quietly first thing in the morning or last thing at night, and be mindful of either the things you would like to achieve, or anything you have accomplished during the day. Listen to your breathing and the sounds of the house around you.
There are also exercise classes that firmly incorporate mindfulness, such as yoga or tai-chi, where you are aware of each pose you hold, how it feels and how your breathing affects every move.
Courses to help you master mindfulness are available – a quick online search will reveal some near to you.
Chronic pain is a double-edged sword. There is the primary effect of physical pain and discomfort, and the secondary effect of the feelings of pain and helplessness that it will never go away, as well as the exhaustion that comes with constant pain.
Clinical trials have suggested that mindfulness can significantly reduce the secondary effect by up to 57% through acknowledging the pain, addressing it and therefore managing it. Instead of continually fighting the pain, and a non-stop internal monologue of how much pain you’re feeling, try taking the time to consider when the pain is actually present – is it all day or at certain times of the day, or if a certain action makes it worse or better – can you distract yourself when the pain is at its worst?
Rather than focussing on the negative that nothing can help, use mindfulness to breakdown the all-consuming pain and see if it becomes more manageable.
Mindfulness isn’t a guaranteed success and isn’t for everyone. Some people will attempt to stop their thought patterns and instead be overwhelmed by other thoughts they’ve been trying to keep at bay. But it’s certainly something we could all benefit from trying, whether to manage chronic pain or simply to be kinder to ourselves in our everyday lives.
We will be holding a four week mindfulness course for chronic pain in our Glasgow clinic in February every Tuesday night, please contact us on 0141 887 3734 if you would like to participate.