Do rushed, frantic weekends blur into months and then into seasons? Georgia Coleridge, healer and complementary therapist, shows how to slow things down…
Do you ever find yourself unable to switch off, not just from big worries but all the little things, like your mother-in-law’s birthday present, the dog’s injections and whether you can make time for a haircut? Sometimes all these thoughts just won’t leave us alone, and if they disturb our sleep, then there’s another thing to worry about – insomnia! If they disturb our days, it is hard to focus, hard to relax and hard to enjoy whatever it is we’re doing.
So how do we quieten the thousand chattering thoughts? Exercise helps, of course, and good, nourishing food that evens out blood sugar levels. But experts are increasingly recommending mindfulness, which can act directly on your brainwaves and tame intrusive anxieties.
What’s so good about mindfulness?
Mindfulness is very easy to learn. It can be practised anywhere (and no, you don’t need to sit cross-legged on a yoga mat). To get the full benefits, you only need to use it for a couple of minutes a day. Unlike antidepressants, there are no side effects. And it is completely free. The basic technique was invented thousands of years ago by Buddhist monks, but modern mindfulness isn’t religious. Psychologists argue that it’s more like brain training, and an impressive body of clinical studies have shown that it can reduce anxiety and chronic pain, clear your brain, boost your immune system, lower your blood pressure, tackle insomnia, improve your memory, increase your physical stamina and even improve relationships. Sound good? Here’s how you can get started…
Step 1: Mastering mindfulness
Start by trying a very simple, two-minute meditation.
- Lie down on your bed, or sit on a comfortable chair with a straight back.
- Now focus on the tip of your nose and notice the sensation as your breath comes in and out of your nostrils.
- Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, after a few seconds (unless you are already a Zen master), your mind will get bored and start pursuing dozens of random thoughts that seem temporarily more interesting.
- When this happens (after all, these thoughts are important, and you’ve got things to DO), stick with it just a bit longer. Remind yourself that all those other issues can wait for another minute or so.
- You can also congratulate yourself for doing so well already. Surprisingly, becoming aware that your mind has been wandering is an important part of the process. So pull yourself back to focusing on your breathing.
- Even if you have to do this a dozen times, it doesn’t mean that you’re rubbish at meditation. It just means that learning any new skill (how to walk, ride a bike, play tennis and so on) needs practice, and there will be plenty of frustrating times along the way.
- Now set aside a couple of minutes every day to practise this little meditation and, I promise you, the time will come when you will suddenly find that you’ve been able to stay in the zone. And here is the reward – when it happens, those few minutes in a meditative state will make you feel good for hours afterwards.
Step 2: Mindfulness in the everyday
Mindfulness isn’t only about meditation. It’s about noticing and appreciating what you’re doing right now. We spend so much time fretting about what might happen or chewing over incidents in the past that we miss out on chunks of our present time. So try these…
- When you need a brain rinse… If you feel frazzled at work, take three minutes away from your desk to wash your hands. Focus on the sound of the tap running, the smell of the soap and how the water feels on your fingers. A simple way to calm and refresh your brain.
- When you’re walking… Notice how the soles of your feet touch the ground.
- When you want time out at home… Immerse yourself for 20 minutes in a physical job. Focus on the pleasure of baking a cake or raking the garden.
- When you’re eating… See how slowly you can eat something, appreciating every bite. Astonishingly, you tend not to overeat when you take it slowly, as you give your brain and digestive system time to register the food.
Step 3: Mindfulness to soothe anxiety
If random worries pop up, use a further refinement to keep them in perspective. The idea is to observe them, from a distance, like watching clouds moving across the sky. You are the observer, you are not your thoughts, and your thoughts are temporary. So instead of thinking, “I feel anxious, I’m stressed, I can’t cope,” think, in a detached kind of way, “Hmm, interesting. Feelings of anxiety are passing through my body.” Keep repeating this phrase and, after a while, you’ll find that these feelings lose a lot of their power over you.
To discover more, try reading Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World (Little, Brown) by Prof Mark Williams and Dr Danny Penman, which is available on exclusivebooks.co.za