Our lifestyles are busier, more competitive and more demanding of productivity then ever before. Anxiety, stress and depression are at a 100 year high and rising (1). Our past coping systems are gone or inadequate resulting in decreased quality of life, higher worry and stress, relationship difficulties, workplace problems, depressed immune system and physical illness (2). In a frantic rush to achieve, to perform, to deliver, be good enough, and stay ahead, we are living on our fight / flight response, on autopilot, unable to let go, unwind and switch off our racing minds.
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5 Features of Mindfulness
Mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to our direct experience in the present moment has emerged as an effective remedy for our age of autopilot. Pioneered by Jon Kabatt-Zinn, and developed Williams, Teasdale and Segal it consists of 5 simple but deceptively powerful components. 1. Paying attention. 2. In a particular way. 3. On purpose. 4. In the present moment 5. Non-judgmentally. Learn to do these each day and expect to see the benefits in your life. Numerous studies have found Mindfulness has positive effects on thinking, mood, stress levels, self esteem, relationships, creativity, immune system, cardiovascular health, the brain (3) and DNA (4).
Do you suffer from Automatic Pilot?
Do you experience a racing mind at the end of the day rather than a peaceful wind down. Are you prone to reacting with anger or frustration rather than responding calmly with wisdom. Do you replay past arguments and rehearse future potential conflicts rather than feel at peace in the present moment. Do you find your attention pulled away constantly by worries and preoccupations rather than being at rest in the present. Are you experiencing regular aches, pains and tension with no physical injury or explanation. If these describe you Mindfulness could make you calmer, healthier and more effective
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5 Exercises to change your brain
Getting better at “paying attention, in a particular way, on purpose in the present, moment non-judmentally” requires skills and attitudes. These can be developed through daily exercises which build on each other.
Exercise 1 - Noticing breath.
Invest 3 to 30 minutes of your day in yourself. Bring your attention to your breathing. You may find it helpful to count the length of your breaths in an out. Allow thoughts to come and go, they are simply looking for your attention, presenting things for your consideration. Gently return your attention back to your breathing.
Exercise 2 - Noticing sensations.
Give yourself 7 to 45 minutes out of your day. Choose something to eat or drink. Bring your attention to the direct experience of each of your senses in sequence, touch, taste, smell, sound, sight. Allow thoughts to come and go, they are simply looking for your attention, presenting things for your consideration. Gently return your attention back to one of your senses.
Exercise 3 – Noticing the body.
Take 5 to 50 minutes out of your day. Sit or lie in a position that supports your body. Bring your attention for a few moments to each part of your body, one at a time. Tune in to what you are experiencing there, is it warm or cold, relaxed or stiff. Moved from your toes to the top of your head, tuning into the direct experiences of each part of your body. Thoughts will look for your attention, allow them to come and go, each time, gently retuning your attention to your physical sensations.
When you have become a bit skilled in exercises 1 to 3, less emotionally reactive, and more skilled at managing your attention you'll be ready and able to make use of the final two Mindfulness exercises.
Exercise 4 - Noticing thoughts.
Give yourself 10 to 45 minutes. Begin by tuning into your breath. This time, unlike previous exercises as thoughts arise, bring your attention to the thought. If thoughts bring with them intense feelings or emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, note their ‘emotional charge’ and intensity. Hold that thought in your attention. Tune in to the physical sensations you feel associated with that thought. When you are ready, or the sensations fade, bring another thought into the focus of your attention, noting its emotional charge and tuning into the physical sensations. Finally to end this exercise return your attention to your breath.
Exercise 5 - Noticing judgements.
Give yourself 10 to 45 minutes. Begin by tuning into your breath. As thoughts arise bring to your attention one of them that has an unpleasant emotional charge. Hold that thought in your attention. Notice the physical sensations associated with that thought. Bringing your attention back to the thought, explore what judgements brought on those unpleasant feelings. Were you expecting the worst? Were you jumping to conclusions? Were you mind-reading? Were you holding someone else or yourself to a standard? Were you labeling yourself or others as all good, all bad or winners and failures? Now you have succeeded at this, return your attention to your breath and body in the present moment, to end this exercise.
Practicing the skills and attitudes of Mindfulness in this way will enable you to be calmer, less reactive and more effective in your day to day life.
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1. Twenge, J. M., Gentile, B., DeWall, C. N., Ma, D., Lacefield, K., & Schurtz, D. R. (2010). Birth cohort increases in psychopathology among young Americans, 1938–2007: A cross-temporal meta-analysis of the MMPI. Clinical psychology review, 30(2), 145-154.
2. Kessler, R. C., Aguilar-Gaxiola, S., Alonso, J., Chatterji, S., Lee, S., Ormel, J., … Wang, P. S. (2009). The global burden of mental disorders: An update from the WHO World Mental Health (WMH) Surveys. Epidemiologia E Psichiatria Sociale, 18(1), 23–33
3 Creswell, J. D., Taren, A. A., Lindsay, E. K., Greco, C. M., Gianaros, P. J., Fairgrieve, A., ... & Ferris, J. L. (2016). Alterations in Resting-State Functional Connectivity Link Mindfulness Meditation With Reduced Interleukin-6: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Biological psychiatry.
4 Black, D. S., & Slavich, G. M. (2016). Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.
PLEASE NOTE: Information provided on this site is for general information and should not be treated as substitute advice in seeking mental health support. We highly advise that you should always consult a GP if you are concerned about your mental health. WellSpring Therapy is not responsible or liable for any mental health diagnosis a user may arrive at based on the information from this site.
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