Mindfulness (Shamatha) is the skill of quietening the mind and learning to focus on the here and now rather than what has been, or what may be. It allows us to pay attention to what is happening in our lives. Alone, it cannot eliminate life’s pressures but it can be a good way to help people deal with them in a much calmer manner and that is beneficial to our overall well-being.
Although mindfulness exercises find their root in Buddhism, there is no need to attach any spiritual aspect to the practice.
The benefits of mindfulness
It’s all too easy to rush through life and not notice what’s going on around us. Stress often increases the time we spend in ‘automatic pilot’ and this may even become a habitual state and this is associated with a number of stress related health problems. Being more aware of the present moment can help people to enjoy the world around them and to develop a better understanding of themselves.
According to the NHS, studies have found that training in mindfulness over a series of weeks can bring about reductions in stress and improvements in mood. In short, everybody can benefit physically, emotionally and mentally from learning mindfulness techniques. It can contribute to greater peace of mind, better sleep and more productivity at work as well as to feeling happier or to having better relationships with others.
As you begin to practice things in a mindful way you will slowly start to feel calmer and more relaxed and develop a deeper understanding of your surroundings and feelings. Fenland Counselling offers instruction that can help anybody learn how to practise mindfulness in an easy and effective way.
Mindfulness as a therapy
Mindfulness practices are not by any means new and certain practices such as yoga, tai chi and meditation, have been around for thousands of years. However more recently western healthcare has incorporated certain elements of mindfulness into therapies that help combat stress and depression.
Mindfulness and stress
Stress is the feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure and is all too common in today’s world. We all need a certain amount of pressure to function well and research shows that pressure can increase our drive to meet deadlines and achieve targets. However, when pressure becomes too intense and prolonged, it can lead to more serious symptoms and problems such as anxiety, depression, headaches, weight gain or loss, sleep disturbance, sweating, abdominal pain, chest pain and panic attacks.
Furthermore, stress can have a profound effect on someone’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour which in turn can cause feelings of anxiousness, being out of control and unable to cope. This can also lead to feeling irritable or constantly worrying about situations and can even affect a person’s self-esteem. Acute stress might come from any area of life, including our work and home life, relationships, illness or finances. It’s a sad truth that we are under greater stresses than ever, and given that stress not only impacts on people’s health and well-being but also damages our social lives and relationships it is understandable that mindfulness is often now an important part of therapies such as Mindfulness-Based Stressed Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).
Mindfulness and depression
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is the leading cause of years lost to illness in both low, middle and high income countries. The most commonly used treatment for major depression is anti-depressant medication. However, once the episode has passed, and people stop taking the medication, the depression often returns. There is evidence to suggest that at least 50% of first time depression sufferers are likely to relapse, and sufferers who have suffered two or three episodes of depression have an 80-90% chance of re-occurrence.
Mindfulness can help people learn how to recognise when their mood is beginning to go down, giving a greater opportunity for depression to be ‘nipped in the bud’ before it has gone too far.