For the past week I have been looking into Mindfulness as it is the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week 2015. We talked about it last night on our Daves of the Week Radio Show and I thought I would blog about it today, as it is an increasingly interesting idea for me.
So, what is Mindfulness? I think it is easier (for me anyway) to think about what it isn’t. Mindfulness is not a Zen like state where a mind is as clear as an unwritten page. Before I began researching into it, I had this impression in mind. My own misconception made me think less of Mindfulness as I have never been good at meditating or clearing my mind of all my troubles. In fact, the opposite occurred, where the more I tried to clear my mind the more it would become noisy and bothersome. Luckily, I had got it wrong, and what Mindfulness is looks very helpful for people coping with mental health issues.
Who is ready for a little quote? You are? Then here we go. Mindfulness is…’an integrative, mind-body based training that helps people to change the way they think and feel about their experiences – especially stressful experiences – and is recommended as a treatment for people with mental health problems.’ Through using techniques such as yoga, meditation and breathing exercises, people can learn to become more aware of their feelings and are better able to manage them rather than being overwhelmed by them.
What is it about Mindfulness that helps people with mental health issues cope better than other approaches? Let’s start with some facts and figures. (Quotes taken from Mental Health Foundation website).
‘People undertaking mindfulness training have shown increased activity in the area of the brain associated with positive emotion – the pre-frontal cortex – which is generally less active in people who are depressed.’
‘More than 100 studies have shown changes in brain wave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.’
‘Evidence shows that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy can, on average, reduce the risk of relapse for people who experience recurrent depression by 43%.’
Now, I am a fan of stats, but I am also a fan of trying things out for myself. This week, I set myself the simple challenge of being aware of what I was feeling. This is unusual for me. I have always tended to ignore issues or distract myself from them. I can say from my point of view, this has not always been a good tactic. This week I was feeling decidedly antsy. I (as usual) dismissed it as either being nothing or down to starting a new job and being tired. As can be expected, the feeling did not diminish and go away.
In the spirit of Mindfulness, I took some time to concentrate on what was bothering me and why. I asked myself every time I felt antsy what it was that was the issues? Was it this? Or that? When I did take the time to look at it, the result I came to was quite surprising for me. I realised that I was feeling out of sorts because I was not stressed about my new job. I actually enjoy it. I think I was so used to the idea of a job being stressful that my body and mind had gone into auto-pilot and made me feel a way about something that was not actually the case in reality. When I realised this, I felt a lot calmer at once and more to the point, I was less of a moody and miserable sod to my nearest and dearest. Through the simple act of looking at an issue and seeing what (if anything) needed to be done about it, I felt more in control of myself and my ability to deal with issues.
This brings me on to why I personally think Mindfulness can help people to manage mental health conditions. I think it is as simple as thinking of it as rather than ignoring or dismissing issues, it asks (and doesn’t force) you to think about what the issues might be and then when you have recognised what it is, to sit with it for a time and see what you feel and think about it. It asks you to confront the problem and try and resolve it. As someone who has most definitely ignored issues in the past, I can only come to the conclusion that surely it is better to face an issue than ignore it. Ignoring it doesn’t have an end date. Ignoring it is not a solution, it allows the situation to go on indefinitely. I think it is the empowering nature of Mindfulness that appeals to me most. The feeling of being capable of managing issues is a very comforting idea to me.
The problem appears to be that Mindfulness is not readily available to people as is suggested by the following quote…
‘75% of GPs have prescribed anti-depressant medication to patients with recurrent depression believing that an alternative might be more appropriate.’
To be fair, this does not say that the ‘alternative’ is Mindfulness, but I would rather people had the chance to see if it worked for them than it not being available for them to even try. Aside from my concern about the way anti-depressants are given away so freely, it appears that G.P’s are giving them even though they think another form of treatment would be more effective and beneficial. I am not sure about the chances of Mindfulness being made more available to people who could benefit from it, but I live in hope.
To end with, I will mention this quote I read and really, really liked.
‘Mindfulness involves recognising that your thoughts are mental events not reality.’
With the amount of time I have spent worrying over things that were not actually real, I can’t think of any better advice for me to keep on the positive side of mental health.
Take care buddies,