It is currently Mental Health Awareness Week, which means that the term "mindfulness" is being used a lot. Mindfulness is a hugely popular topic, and many of you may already be aware of it or even practice it yourself.
So what is mindfulness? In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness. Practising mindfulness offers a way to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. The origins of mindfulness sit firmly in Buddhism but it's increasingly taught in a secular form and it has now infiltrated the media as well.
Why is being mindful important? Mindfulness can help to reduce stress and anxiety and conflict, and increase resilience and emotional intelligence; all while improving communication both at home and in the workplace. But how are we able to be mindful when we are busy and in a time crunch? For most people, it is the frequent annoying daily screw-ups, minor setbacks and irritating upsets in our daily life that can be wearing. Just the "stress" of maintaining our lifestyle can sometimes make it difficult to keep going with a positive outlook. Ever ask your friends how they are and they respond something like, "oh my god, it's just nuts" or "it's crazy busy right now"? We can often feel that our jobs and daily responsibilities take a big toll on us.
How does mindfulness relate to coping with everyday stress and setbacks? It actually mostly relates to resilience. Being mindful helps remove the obstacles that prevent natural resilience processes from working. Being mindful is just the act of focusing on the present, focusing only on the activity that you're doing at that moment in time. Mindfulness is about stopping those wandering thoughts, simplifying everything which in turn can help us relax. It is like training the brain so it can bounce back from the cumulative toll of daily blocks and hassles. And with just a little effort and practice, you can upgrade its ability to snap back from life's setbacks and downers.
How do we develop mindfulness when we are so busy? When I read about mindfulness and how to develop it, I often read things like "find a quiet, private place where you can be undistracted - for instance, close your office door, burn some incense and mute your phone. Focus your awareness on your breath, staying attentive to the sensations of the inhalation and exhalation, and start again on the next breath. Try to do this for 30 minutes or so per day", or something like this. The problem with this is that as much as I would like to take 30 minutes out of my day to focus on my breathing, I sit in a heavy traffic open plan office where shutting my eyes (and burning incense) wouldn't really work. Moreover, I seldom have 30 minutes to eat lunch...
So how do I make mindfulness work for me? I think what mindfulness teaches us is not so much about where you are, or how long you need to focus your breathing for, but more how we should endeavour to find time to stop and just be, that is, try to find peace in the chaos of our day-to-day lives! So, I have adapted mindfulness to suit my lifestyle, something I think we can all do. As an example, I use my commute to put down my phone, close my eyes, and try to still my thoughts and be present, that is, until my tube stop's announced. It is not "quiet" on the London Underground by any stretch, but it is a start and is one of the only times I have the "space" to still my thoughts. Another example, when I do actually have time at lunch, I leave the office, try to find a spare park bench (especially now that the weather is nice), and try to just be in the moment, not thinking about the past or the future, but just taking in the present. Sometimes I am able to do this for 30 minutes per day or more, and other times it's just for a few minutes.
The point is, at least I am trying to still my racing thoughts and enjoy the present moment as best I can in my busy life, something I think we can all find a little amount of time to do every day. In the end, it will help us feel more relaxed, calm and more in control in all aspects of our lives, which isn't a bad thing necessarily, is it?