Mindfulness - Your Essential Guide

Do you feel like your brain is an internet browser with multiple tabs constantly open? Life is so unpredictable and stressful that it can be difficult to focus on any one thing at a time. You might have heard mindfulness touted as one of the more popular ways to lower stress. So what is mindfulness, and is it worth trying?

Mindfulness means having your attention fully in the moment, focused wholly on whatever it is you are doing, instead of on your worries or distracting thoughts. The benefits of mindfulness – confirmed by extensive research – include reduced stress and anxiety as well as better productivity and focus.

How does mindfulness work?

One way to practise mindfulness is to focus only on what you’re doing in the present moment – such as driving, walking or cooking – and ignore thoughts about the past or the future. 

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Bring your full attention to where you are, focusing on the sounds, smells and sights around you, and noticing how you’re feeling and how you are breathing.

“Start small, even with five minutes,” advises integrative psychologist Leanne Hall. “Mindfulness is a skill, and like any other skill it takes practice, and persistence.

“There are many ways to practise mindfulness, try several different types until you find one, or a few, that work for you.”

You could try, for example, a walking meditation where you pay full attention to the motion of your feet, and the sensations in your body. Another option is to take a few minutes to focus on breathing deeply in and out, letting your thoughts fall away as much as possible.

“Your mind is designed to wander – let it!” says Hall. “When it does, gently guide it back.”

If you struggle with mindfulness, be patient.

“If it’s not working, try again later,” Hall advises. “Sometimes it’s just difficult to get into the right headspace.”

You can also tap into the benefits of mindfulness with apps such as Headspace and Smiling Mind.

What is journaling?

A popular form of mindfulness is keeping a journal, where you record your thoughts and feelings, or a bullet journal, where you make brief notes in a bullet-point format.

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The benefits of journaling include helping you gain control of your emotions and boost your mental wellness. But keep in mind this trend isn’t for everyone.

“Journaling can be unhelpful, especially if you re-read entries over and over that cause anxiety or distress, leading to ruminating and judgment,” Hall cautions. “For it to be helpful, it’s important to use it as a way to clarify experiences and let go of unhelpful negativity. I always advise people to delete [or erase] upsetting entries after a certain period of time.”

Other ways to lower stress

  • Exercise. “Getting the heart rate up burns adrenaline and cortisol, and triggers the release of feelgood hormones like dopamine and endorphins,” says Hall.
  • Set boundaries. Don’t take on more than you can handle, and get comfortable with saying no, advises Hall. When you stop accepting tasks out of guilt or a misplaced sense of duty, you’ll have more time for yourself.
  • Make time for relaxation. Body therapies and treatments such as massage, acupuncture and facials can lower stress. “Physical stimulation and release helps release toxins and relaxes muscles,” Hall says. “We embody stress so it’s incredibly important to acknowledge the impact on the body.”