Mindfulness is about paying attention to what’s going on right now, moment by moment, rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness can boost emotional and physical wellbeing. It can also help you with stress, anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness: the basics
Our minds are constantly active. You might be watching television – but also thinking about the past, or worrying about something, or wondering what you’re going to have for dinner.
Mindfulness has been defined in several ways, including:
- giving your complete attention to the present on a moment-by-moment basis
- paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.
It’s about being more aware as you live and experience each moment – as the moment happens. It can be a useful way of calming yourself and focusing on what you’re doing.
You can be mindful of your internal world – for example, sensations, breath and emotions. Or you can focus on what’s around you – for example, sights, sounds and smells.
You can be mindful anywhere and with anything. For example, you can be mindful while you’re eating, walking, listening to music or sitting.
You can use everyday moments to build and practise mindfulness. The more you practise, the more benefit you’ll get.
You can also encourage your child to build mindfulness. In many ways, this is just about getting your child to do what she naturally does. Young children are naturally mindful because every new experience is fresh and exciting for them.
Encouraging your child to be in the here and now can give him skills to deal with stress and anxiety as he gets older.
There are many ways to help your child build and practise mindfulness. For example:
- Colouring in is a great way to get your child focused on a task.
- Walking through nature with the family can get your child interested in exploring the beauty of nature. Your child could collect and examine autumn leaves, or feel the sand beneath her toes during a walk on the beach.
- Taking photographs of or drawing something interesting or beautiful – such as a sea shell or an insect – encourages your child to look closely at details.
- Looking after a vegetable patch encourages your child to notice how plants grow.
You might have heard of mindfulness meditation. This is a highly focused type of mindfulness, and you usually need an experienced instructor to teach you to do it. It combines meditation, breathing techniques and paying attention to the present moment to help people change the way they think, feel and act.
An experienced counsellor or psychiatrist can ensure that you’re not focusing on difficult or upsetting feelings that might make any problems worse.
Mindfulness: the evidence
There’s clear evidence that, for adults, practising mindfulness can have health benefits.
For example, studies suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce stress and improve other mental health issues. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help people with depression stay well and stop them from getting depressed again. It can also work just as well as an antidepressant.
Being ‘present’ and less anxious can boost social skills and academic performance. It can also help people manage emotions.
There isn’t much research into mindfulness with children and teenagers yet, so we don’t know whether it works with them. But people who work with children and teenagers say children enjoy and appreciate mindfulness activities.