Mindfulness – The Sh*t or Bullsh*t?
I started practicing mindfulness and meditation a long time before it became the popular trend it is today. Mindfulness is ingenious and was an important part of recovery from my own struggles with mental illness and it’s one of the few methods I still rely on. It’s such a useful tool for everyone to learn whether you’re affected by mental illness or just want to try and destress around deadlines or exams. Unquestionably, one of the biggest benefits of practising mindfulness is that it’s usually completely free, easy to practice and not very time consuming.
Meditation is one of the best ways to practice mindfulness in my opinion, you can practice it whenever you like for however long you like. Start by simply closing your eyes, keeping your back straight but relaxed and sitting comfortably. When you’re ready, slowly transfer your awareness to your breath and breathe in and out. Don’t try to change your natural breathing rhythm just try and keep your awareness on the inhalation and exhalation of air and the way your body moves in response. Thoughts will start to drift in and out but keep your awareness on the breath and simply observe thoughts as they come and go, don’t try to block them out or react to them. Just keep focused on your breath. The effects of meditation are incredible, it has been proven to elevate feel good hormones and long term practice has been scientifically linked to the healing of all types of mental illness. You can get different apps like headspace and the calm app for a small fee if you need someone to guide you initially. However, you don’t need to spend anything to meditate and once you get the hang of meditating it becomes such a great way to destress.
Gratitude walks are another great way to practice mindfulness, you can go for a quick walk in your lunch break or after lectures. Grab a warm coat and head out to a nice park or scenic viewpoint, with each step you take try to think of something you are grateful for. Keep repeating this until you’ve finished your walk and never stop thinking of things you are grateful for. Believe it or not even on the worst days there will be something you can be grateful for, even if it’s just that you got out of bed today.
Mindfulness colouring books are probably the most popular exercise. Colouring has been proven to relax because it engages the creative side of your brain and allows you to express your thoughts and learn about yourself in the process of creating. So, find somewhere comfy and relaxing with good lighting, grab a few pencils and start colouring. These books might set you back a few pennies if you buy a lot of them but nothing too much and they are certainly fun if not a stress relieving practice.
If you’re a skint student like me, you might want to consider alternative ways to express yourself creatively and relieve some stress at the end of each day. Consider journaling as a cheaper and arguably more effective alternative. You can buy the cheapest notepads from Wilko’s but they sell them everywhere. Then, grab a pen and start jotting down all the noise and clutter in your brain. I try not to think too much when I do this I just let my pen connect with my mind and free flow. Write until you feel like all the noise has gone from your brain and then stop and read it back. As you read back what you’ve written you’ll notice the cycle of your thoughts and the different patterns in your thoughts. Journaling makes it easier to observe the root of your anxiety or low mood or whatever you might be feeling and work out why it’s causing you to feel this way. Eventually you will begin to identify what it is that might be triggering how you are feeling and you won’t have those same thoughts. I love journaling and I’ve done it consistently every day since I first began to struggle with my mental health. I’m not suggesting mindfulness journaling will work really well for everyone but I know my recovery wouldn’t have been the same without it and that I am without a doubt the person I am today because of it. I will always be grateful that I have mindfulness.