With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, the ability to reduce stress and build resilience has never been more relevant or important.
Dr Carolyn Ee is a GP, researcher, health and wellbeing advocate and runner. Dr Ee tells us more about mindfulness…
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness meditation is defined as paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgement. Paying attention refers to checking in on how you are feeling internally, as well as being aware of your immediate surroundings.
However, mindfulness is a whole lot more than just focussing on the present moment. A key component is that you learn to do this non-judgementally. Mindfulness invites us all to be curious about how we are feeling in the present moment, instead of labelling thoughts and emotions as “good” or “bad”.
The practice of mindfulness is often described as difficult because many people complain that they “can’t clear their mind”. Somehow, people expect that mindfulness means having a mind that is empty of thoughts.
Your mind will almost never be “empty” of thoughts – the practice of mindfulness teaches you to notice these thoughts instead, non-judgementally, and without getting carried away with them. Analogies that have been used are watching clouds drift in the sky, or leaves drift down a stream.
Most of all, approach these thoughts with kindness and curiosity, instead of judging them or introducing negative self talk about how you shouldn’t be having these thoughts and feelings.
This is the true magic of mindfulness – it teaches us to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. This can be particularly helpful during physical activity, especially the final few metres of a parkrun on some occasions!
Science tells us that mindfulness can help us build resilience, which buffers us against stressful events. Mindfulness appears to be as effective as other forms of reducing anxiety and depression such as exercise, therapy or medication.
It’s worth noting that mindfulness may not be for everyone though. Some people feel more anxious with the practice, particularly those who have experienced trauma. If you’re unsure, this article is a good reference point.
If you’d like to try mindfulness meditation, some simple ways to start are to use the SmilingMind or Headspace apps for guided meditations. Your local community or health centre may offer mindfulness classes.
Or you might like to enrol for a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program which is a more intensive and structured way to learn how to practice mindfulness, taught over eight weeks.
Dr Carolyn Ee
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