I’ve been uploading quite a few politics focused posts recently, so today I decided to talk about another subject I am equally passionate about…mental health. I love to write these posts and they get a great response from you all, so I hope you enjoy.
If you’re in the UK, like myself, you’ll be in lockdown 2.0 right now, with not much longer to go before another set of changes. Uncertainty is the theme of 2020, honest to god, who knew we were going to be in another lockdown in November. With that uncertainty for the future has come a huge amount of anxiety. Feeling okay with just not knowing what next week is even going to look like can be very hard, I know I’ve definitely struggled with it.
For a lot of lockdown I felt the constant need to fill my time and to be as productive as possible. Whether that was taking online courses, reading, learning a new skill, even making this website, I had to be doing something otherwise I would be worrying about what was going to happen next or where I’d be in a post-corona world (whenever that is lol). I was desperate to not feel like I’d wasted a large chunk of life watching TV and pretty much doing nothing, however throughout an on and off lockdown from March to now, I’ve learnt that doing nothing sometimes is perfectly okay and in some cases is hugely important for our mental health, we can’t always be go go go! I spoke about this more in a recent post called ‘The Wonders of Self Care’.
Since that post I’ve been working on being more mindful, showing myself more respect and being more self-aware, and I have to say it’s done a lot of good. I think the fact that we just never know what’s going on at the moment or what the future holds can be very un-nerving. I’m definitely one to look to the future and worry things won’t work out, but with our current climate it can be even more worrying not knowing what is going on. I’ve decided that in order to combat that feeling I have to be more mindful and self-aware, I need to be doing what I can to stay sane in the moment. We never really know what is going to happen in the future, so instead, focusing on what is going on right now can settle that worry and uncertainty.
What is mindfulness and why is it important?
It is easy to end up living in our own heads and not being aware of what is really going on around us, how we are feeling, or what our thoughts are really telling us. We end up becoming stuck in auto-pilot, living out our days, unaware of our thoughts and how they effect the way we view and talk to ourselves. Mindfulness unlocks the ability to show ourselves self-respect and kindness, this then translates into our everyday lives.
When we practice mindfulness it allows us to see our own thought patterns and why certain situations or scenarios make us feel a certain way, we can train ourselves to better deal with these situations. When we are mindful of our emotions we can notice signs of stress or anxiety and mange them more effectively. If we are more self-aware of what is going on in our head we can control it and not fixate on negative feelings or emotions. We learn self-discipline and how to ensure our thoughts don’t control us, we control them.
Meditation and mindfulness has lots of proven benefits to our mental and physical health. It can lower stress levels, improve your sleep, improve your focus and attention span, help to prevent depression relapses, reduce anxiety and increases the size of grey matter in your brain. It was found in a study that consistent meditation and mindfulness increased grey matter in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, temporo-parietal junction, and cerebellum. These areas of the brain deal with the regulation of emotion, learning processes, perspective and memory. As well as this, there has been evidence to show that mindfulness can reduce chronic pain and lower blood pressure. Overall mindfulness is significantly helpful in improving our wellbeing.
It can be scary or intimidating for some people to meditate or practice mindfulness, when you stop and sit in silence a lot of worries and thoughts come flooding in. It is important to remind yourself that these are just thoughts in your head and the more you focus on them the more they fill you with anxiety. You should instead turn away from them and remind yourself that these are just feelings, they don’t manifest in reality, they are just doubts, they are not real.
How have I been practicing mindfulness?
Each day I’ve been doing a meditation / affirmation morning routine to focus myself for the day. I’ve never been one to think this type of exercise is effective but I have found that it really helps to calm me and start my day right.
I put on some meditation or wave sound music and I breathe slowly and deeply, focusing on that breathing, any thoughts that would try to jump in I turn away from and focus my thoughts back onto following my breathing or listening to the sounds in the music. After this, I continue breathing and practice positive self talk and affirmations, reminding myself of what I’m grateful for right now in my life and focusing on the good, even if they are small things. The constant reminder of these affirmations each morning allows me to check myself and fight doubts I may be having. The journey of self-improvement is never an easy one, some days it is harder to focus than others, but sticking to the routine is so important.
I think meditation and mindfulness teaches you really important skills about controlling your thoughts. It’s easy to slip into a pattern of negative thinking, so forcing yourself even for 5 minutes to sit and breathe and to only focus on that breathing shows you that you have the ability to say no to the negative thoughts or doubts trying to enter your mind. It shows you that you have discipline and that you are in control of what’s going on in your head. I think this is an important mindset to learn and so far this routine has been incredibly helpful for me to centre myself and start my day correctly. Without showing discipline to your thoughts and being more aware of them, it can become much easier to fall into a negative spiral because you aren’t always aware of what does cause the spiral. Understanding your thoughts and being mindful of them is a good way of understanding what can trigger a path of negative thinking and then ensuring that you don’t take that path.
You should take the time to focus on the right here and right now, being grateful for what you have and reminding yourself of the good in the very day you are in, even if it is one small thing like the weather. Reminding yourself of the bigger picture means you get a better perspective of what’s really going on, and maybe that one thing you were stressing about soooo much, really isn’t as big as you thought it was. I think that there is a lot to learn about being mindful, and a lot it can teach us in terms of emotional agility and resilience through challenges times, like this very pandemic. Many of us have found this year challenging, it has affected our whole way of life, even our perspective on life. Checking in with yourself and being mindful of how you are really feeling is more important now than ever. So, take this as your reminder to crack open your window, let in some fresh air, breathe deeply, be grateful, and remind yourself of who you really are, remember that you can control the thoughts in your head.