How to enjoy the mental health benefits of mindfulness, even if you find meditating difficult.
In a fast-paced world where so many of us find it difficult to switch off, it’s little surprise that mindful meditation – the practice of clearing your mind and being in the present moment – has become so popular. Research suggests it can help people cope better with stress and anxiety as well as improving sleep and concentration.
However, for some, trying to sit still and keep racing thoughts at bay can feel like torture and may, according to research published in 2019 , actually cause anxiety, rather than help it.
The good news here is that there are plenty of other ways to reap the benefits of mindfulness which don’t involve chanting in a dark room.
If sitting still and focussing on your breath isn’t for you, mindful running just might be. Switch off your music, focus on your surroundings and the way your body feels and enjoy the stress-busting benefits. With correct alignment and breathing techniques it’s even supposed to enhance running performance. There are organisations such as chirunning.com who can offer tuition or the Headspace app has teamed up with Nike to provide guided mindful runs.
If breaking into a sweat isn’t quite what you were looking for, take it down a notch with mindful walking. A study carried out in 2017 found that combining walking with meditation was more effective at reducing anxiety than meditation alone. Plus you can also fit it more easily into your day. Again, Headspace offer guided walks to get you started.
Learn a new skill
When we learn something new it generally requires our full concentration, which can turn it into a mindful activity. By getting us to focus only on the present moment we are likely to find ourselves in that elusive state of “flow”. Take an art class, learn to play a musical instrument or take dance lessons. Research suggests it can help reduce anxiety, boost self-confidence, and improve mental wellbeing.
The weeding, the planting, the nature, the nurture... everything about gardening lends itself to mindfulness. So it’s no wonder it’s been found to reduce stress and boost happiness. If you haven’t got a garden, cultivate a window box or check out local community gardens, allotments and green gyms.
Even your evening meal can be an exercise in mindfulness. Check out Headspace’s mindful eating and cooking courses and see dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker’s recipes for mindfulness here.