Most people know what it's like to be under stress – it is, after all, an unavoidable part of living in the 21st century. But if you're under stress in the long term it can take its toll on your mental and physical health. The good news is there are therapies and techniques that can help – and one of the most talked-about at the moment is a technique called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is being aware of the here and now, of your thoughts, feelings, sensations and your surroundings. Using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga, it can help you become more aware of the present moment, rather than worrying about what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow.

Think of it as the opposite of mindlessness. For instance, who hasn't walked into a room and forgotten why they went in there in the first place? This is an example most people can relate to, and shows how our minds can often get distracted from what we're doing. So if, like most people, you're constantly multi-tasking, and juggling various different demands at home and at work, the result is often a lack of awareness of the present moment.

So how can mindfulness help you?

As well as helping you cope better with stress, many experts believe it may also be effective in cases of anxiety, depression and addictions (some studies even suggest mindfulness-based therapies may work just as well against depression as antidepressant drugs). In fact, according to the Mental Health Foundation, almost three-quarters of GPs think mindfulness meditation would be helpful for people with mental health issues.

There is also evidence that practising mindfulness on a regular basis could boost your physical health. That's because it's thought to have a positive effect on health concerns such as high blood pressure, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome and chronic pain.

Try it yourself

You don't have to be a master of meditation or a yoga disciple to reap the benefits of mindfulness techniques. This mindful meditation is suitable for anyone, even complete beginners. All you have to do is focus on your breathing, which helps you become more aware of the present moment. Here's how it's done:

  • Find a warm, quiet place where you won't be disturbed or distracted. Get into a comfortable position – but avoid lying down (as you may end up falling asleep)
  • With your eyes either open or closed, start focusing on your breathing. Count your breaths, if you like, or repeat a soothing word every time you exhale. Try repeating the word 'calm', 'still', 'peace' or 'quiet', for instance
  • Focus your attention on your body. Start with your feet and work your way right up to the top of your head, concentrating on each part and how it feels right now
  • If other thoughts come into your head, bring your attention back to your breathing and let the thoughts gently flow back out again

CABA’s personal and professional development courses cover mindfulness techniques. For more information about mindfulness, including access to online courses, visit the Mental Health Foundation's website

© CABA 2013

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