Dealing with stress: how mindfulness can help
One in five of us feels stressed every day, but there is a way of learning to deal with whatever life throws our way. Here we explore the practice of mindfulness.
If you're feeling stressed, you’re not alone. According to the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), research shows that each year some 12 million adults in the UK see their GP about a mental health issue. Most are suffering from anxiety and depression – much of it stress related. The result is more than 13 million working days lost annually due to stress, depression and anxiety.
Rather than bottling things up and letting stress affect your day-to-day life, there is a clinically proven way to deal with your emotions. It's called mindfulness. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress, blood pressure and anxiety, but it can also help you sleep better, improve your personal and professional relationships, and even work like a painkiller. The MHF has found that practising mindfulness could also help you enjoy life more, warding off depression.
Dr Jonty Heaversedge, co-author of The Mindful Manifesto, says, “The clinical evidence for mindfulness is compelling and, like eating well and taking regular exercise, it is a healthy way in which people can manage their stress so it doesn’t end up taking over their lives.”
What is mindfulness?
Put simply, mindfulness is a type of meditation – you learn to experience the moment, but it’s not spiritual or religious. There’s no need for the lotus position! The MHF describes it as “a mind-body approach to life that helps people to relate differently to experiences”. It involves becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations such as smell, touch and taste.
How can I practise mindfulness?
Paying extra attention to the way your mind and body is experiencing and reacting to situations can help you manage difficult experiences more effectively. Practising mindfulness might involve:
- Noticing the noise your feet make on the pavement as you go running
- Trying to taste all the different flavours in a mouthful of food
- Sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing for a few minutes
- Becoming aware of the smell of your garden after it rains and blocking out other sensations to concentrate on those smells
You will find some useful tips on dealing with stress here on the benenden health website. Members of benenden health can also call the Psychological Wellbeing 24/7 Helpline. Qualified counsellors are available to listen and to provide information on a range of local services.
The Mental Health Foundation offers a free online stress test, plus information about mindfulness resources, from books and CDs that you can study at home to where to find a course in mindfulness.