I can lose myself when I stare at a flower. Their delicate petals, the shapes they form, their beauty; gazing at or softly touching them can quieten me and fill me with gratitude and awe.
It hasn’t always been the case though. Waking up in the midst of an anxiety attack, feeling suicidal from depression, or merely just coping with some everyday form of stress - if you’d handed me a flower to look at I would have returned the favour with a filthy look. How on earth could it have helped me feel less pain?
And the flower itself probably couldn’t have. But the idea behind it – that becoming present and still in the moment can help you feel more grounded – absolutely could have.
It’s called ‘mindfulness,’ and even though it’s true the buzzword is having a bit of a moment, the practice has been around for centuries in the East, and at least 40 years in the West. Put simply, it’s any exercise that helps you focus on your sensations and thoughts in the present moment.
The roots of mindfulness lie in meditation, but any activity can benefit from it. Preparing and eating a meal; taking in a gorgeous view; having a conversation – if you’re actively paying close attention to the present moment, you are being mindful.
But it’s difficult. After all, there are emotions, people, and social media updates to distract us until the end of time. This is where meditation – although often infuriately tricky in the beginning – can really help.
Sitting in a comfortable position and focussing on your breath for ten minutes is a common suggested way to ease into mindfulness meditation, and if that seems like an age, why not try three minutes instead. There are also a plethora of appsdesigned to help even the most highly-strung person wind down; the key is, no matter how bad you (think you) are, you stick with it.
Studies have shown that regular meditation can help you focus, better control your emotions, help with addiction issues, and –as one small study concluded – reduce the size of the right amygdala, a region of the brain linked to the processing of negative emotions, especially sadness and anxiety.
As well as the above, I have found that mindfulness has helped me become a more grateful person – and as numerous studies have shown, being grateful has a range of physical and psychological benefits.
Of course, I can’t contribute my new sense of wellbeing solely to mindfulness. I have a mental illness, and need both medication and therapy to help me deal with and manage it.
But I relish my time meditating; the stillness it can provide in the moment follows me throughout the day, and I’ve noticed I handle potential stress in a much more balanced and reasonable manner, and my depressive episodes are not only fewer and further between, they’re less severe.
I’m more mindful in my everyday life – from cooking dinner to exercising and spending time with my friends; I enjoy life more.