Monday 17th January 2022 marked the most depressing day of the year, or as it’s more commonly referred to, Blue Monday. It’s easy to get bogged down this time of year, coming off the back end of the Christmas festivities, evening’s being as cold, dark and wet as ever, and on top of all that, everybody’s skint. It’s no wonder why many consider this to be one of the bleaker times of year, but we’d like to offer a little guidance to help you manage all the doom and gloom and hopefully add some light to these darker nights, through practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a great way to improve your headspace and become more aware of your thoughts. To put it lightly, it is to experience what you are experiencing as you experience it. You see our minds are constantly running on auto-pilot, making thoughts enter and leave our heads without us even realising, without us being aware of them. This sometimes, if we’re not able to manage these thoughts, can lead to them spiralling a bit out of control, causing us to panic and stress out. Mindfulness is the act of taking back control of your mind, being aware of your thoughts and your presence and acting purely on that. In this day and age of constantly changing norms and 15 second memes, it’s important to try and stay ahead of the stress and uncertainty to take care of our mental health.
Practicing mindfulness boasts many benefits, both physical and mental. Research has suggested that mindfulness can help you become calmer, be more productive at work, and move towards a healthier mindset, which when all combined together, will push you further in your goals. Multiple studies have found that practicing mindfulness has resulted in reduced symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety, and has helped people who persistently worry about past events and negative emotions deal with this and approach it with a more positive headspace. Practicing mindfulness can also help improve memory and attention span, and other research shows that it allows you to be more in touch with your emotions, promoting healthier relationships with other people and yourself.
Meditation is one of the most popular and common ways that people practice mindfulness. It is the act of silencing your brain for a temporary moment of calm and reflection, which is important to do amidst all the chaos of our day-to-day lives. By silencing our brain and limiting ourselves to just awareness, we are able to process a thought a lot easier without hundreds of others flooding in to distract you.
If you’ve never meditated before or you don’t fully understand what is meant by achieving awareness, I invite you to try something with me for a moment; Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing, taking a few long deeps breaths in and out, you’ll notice that after a short while, there’s no thoughts racing through your head, there’s no thinking about what to cook for tea or any wondering why that person hasn’t replied to your text, it’s just you and an awareness of yourself and your surroundings. This is practicing mindfulness by meditation. You now have a much clearer mind to approach those daunting and worrying thoughts you’ve been stressing over.
Fun fact: The average person spends about 47% of their day on auto-pilot. This means that almost half of the things you do in a day, you don’t even think about because it’s an automatic response from your brain. For example, for most of today you’ve been breathing and blinking automatically; Congratulations! Keep it up! But now you’re thinking about it, so you’re doing it manually. Anyway, you’ll forget about it in a few minutes and once again, all of that will become automatic again, putting your brain back into auto-pilot.
Walking is something we do a lot of and so over time, it becomes automatic. We can do it without thinking; which is great because who wants to spend every minute of every day worrying about putting one foot in front of the other? I certainly don’t. But occasionally, by bringing awareness back into the automatic, the everyday things we do allow us to experience our day with a sense of freshness and vitality. To walk mindfully, according to Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, is to “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet, focus your attention to the experience of walking and feel the ground beneath you as you walk. Notice the sights, the sounds, the smells, the feel of the world as you move through it.”
Mindfulness has always been a key aspect of yoga, spending time to focus on mind-body awareness, as well as alignment details and physical posture. The point of mindful yoga is to cultivate mindfulness using asana, the physical posture side of doing yoga. By bringing mindful awareness to a physical activity, you create a hyper focus on whatever you are doing in that exact moment. This focus in turn then allows you to turn that physical activity essentially into a new form of meditation.
By practicing mindfulness whilst also doing yoga, you’re preparing yourself to face the challenges of everyday life far easier. Mindful Yoga specifically encourages patience and discourages reactivity, allowing you to organise your thoughts clearer and not feel the urge to rush things. People who do mindful yoga also claim they have a deep sense of awareness since the act of combining mindfulness practices and physical ones notices you to pick up on habitual patterns and how your body works for you.
If you’re anything like me then you may spend way too much time worrying about things in the past, and constantly worrying about things in the past is not a great start when trying to be more mindful. Keeping a journal is a great way to reflect on your thoughts and feelings in a completely private and safe way. Allowing you to add some perspective and deal with these thoughts in a far more constructive way. If you’ve got a log of how you’ve been feeling day by day, you can easily track your mood and overtime you’ll be able to reflect and make changes to improve your days.
That’s just a few ways in which you can practice mindfulness now and hopefully improve your wellbeing in these gloomier times of year. Mindfulness and mental health are massively important issues that they need to be taken seriously and tackled appropriately. At the end of the day, we only have one mind, so let’s take care of it shall we.
Check out some of these resources below for achieving mindfulness and improving mental health.