Modern-day Mindfulness – Tips on how to support your mental health.
Our mind is a continuous dance between a blessing and a curse. It is a like double-edged sword. On one side our mind enables us to contemplate, plan, solve problems, innovate ideas, create goals… But as Carl Jung highlights, we all have a shadow, a dark side and on that dark side the human mind also tends to haunt our inner world with unhelpful fear and painful thoughts.
We all experience self-criticism, anxiety and worry, that inner voice that can cripple us if we let it, especially in times of uncertainty and confusion. For many of us, that inner voice can become our own worst enemy, crushing our self-esteem or driving us to feel constantly stressed, insecure or anxious. Creating negative thought patterns which, if we don’t accept, will govern our behaviours.
First of all, this is a normal reaction to the more stressful events and scenarios occurring in our lives, such as an upcoming test, a new career change, starting a business, or as we are all experiencing a global pandemic.
Often you will first notice physical sensations like butterflies, sweaty palms or increased heart rate but remembering this is normal and okay, is key to feeling it through, and to not let these thoughts or responses govern your choices. Simon Sinek highlights how athletes perceive these symptoms as excitement. When you are excited you get butterflies, increased heart rate etc and through practice of putting this into a positive light, the less negative patterns will appear.
However, when your anxious thoughts become excessive—and worries in your head, grow bigger and bigger this can lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed and this is where mindfulness can be really helpful.
Mindfulness can help us to detach from our anxious thoughts, feel calm and thrive in the present moment. It teaches us to bring out attention to the present moment, the now.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu
Mindfulness doesn’t take these negative thoughts or patterns away. It simple helps us, when we need to, to let go, find our balance and go with the flow.
We need to explore tips and tricks, how in this modern day, to help reduce the noise and be a bit more mindful.
First, it’s helpful to become familiar with the meaning of mindfulness. While most will say they understand mindfulness and may wish to switch off now because its common sense. Common sense doesn’t mean common practice. Deeply understanding the why behind things makes the practise in the moment when you most need it, is much more effective.
Mindfulness is the quality of being present and fully engaged in the moment. Taking in the words and sentences as you go, without letting your mind wonder for too long throughout. Being free from distraction or judgement, aware of our thoughts & feelings both ‘good’ and ‘bad’, without getting caught up in them. This engagement, flow, presence can be improved through a variety of difference practices & rituals
Here are some tips and key concepts to consider when practising mindfulness in our modern lifestyles.
Keep Phone and Computer Time In Check
Like our mind, technology is a bit of a blessing and a curse. We have access to all of mankind’s thoughts, history and information which, can easily overload our brains. With all of the media at our fingertips, its important to practice technology discipline and to set boundaries for screen time. One of the easiest and most common ways to lose our minds into our phones or computers is through social media, the endless finger scrolling.
- Try establishing designated times for social and internet browsing. It can be much harder than you think so try setting an alarm for 20 minutes and stick to it.
- Remove the phone from your bedrooms. Not only will this help you get up in the morning i.e. to turn off your alarm but it will help combat the temptation to look at your phone first thing in the morning. This may seem like a harmless activity but due to the screen light & temperature, this will have a big impact on your biological systems.
- On top of the last point, don’t look at screens 1 hour before bed. Failing this, purchase a pair of blue light blocker classes which will at least help make a small improvement.
Focus On One Thing At A Time
Simplifying down to one single thing is easier said than done. The temptation to tackle multiple things at once can be attractive with a sense that we will become productivity machines.
Studies have found that tasks take 50% longer with 50% more errors when multi-tasking. Instead consider “uni-tasking”, with breaks in between, whenever possible.
Not only will this help with your productivity but will enhance your experience by encouraging ‘Flow states’ or ‘being in the zone’. The psychologist credited with popularising the concept of flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, argued that flow is the optimal state of being. He suggested that
“Happiness depends on inner harmony, not on the control we exert over our environment or circumstances”.
Flow captures the positive mental state, the experience of being completely absorbed, focused and involved in your activity as well as deriving enjoyment from being engaged in that activity.
To help implement this, write things down.
First thing in the morning with a coffee or tea, create a task list or as I like to call them a ‘steps list’. Move one task over the the ‘now’ column and you cannot tackle another task until that one is done.
Have you ever heard that saying ‘you are what you eat’? I never truly understood that until I learnt about how the food and nutrients you eat, effects your mind. Without going into too much detail the food you consume has and produces certain bacteria in your gut. This bacteria is used for a variety of different tasks but like all living things, wants to reproduce. To do this, they will send signals to your brain to trigger certain emotions in an attempt to get you to eat similar food again, so they can reproduce.
If you often eat unhealthy, processed foods you will experience the temptation and desire to continue to do the same. Additionally, studies have found that around 90% of serotonin receptors (serotonin is our ‘happiness molecule’) are located in the gut.
To supplement this, (pardon the pun) food / nutritional supplements are a great way to add a boost to your diet. While nothing beats getting your nutrients from natural sources, supplement help plug any nutritional gaps in the meantime while you work to create a more complete & balanced diet.
Have a look at Kokora a new UK based company offering high quality Multivitamin tablets along with CBD Infused supplements and advice to help support your body & mind find balance & homeostasis.
Additionally, remembering to eat mindfully is vital. Eating your meal without the TV on, computer, phone or anything else in-front of you that may capture your attention and task you off the experience of what you are currently doing. Fuelling and feeling your body and mind.
Focus on what and where you can truly taste
Eating can be a great way to help practice meditation and focusing on the present moment. Enjoy what you’re eating is good, not only for your body, but for your mind & soul as well.
Speaking of meditation. Discipline yourself to consistently carve out some time to simple sit and be with yourself. Even if it is just 5 minutes a day to sit quietly, close your eyes and simply follow your breath. Understanding & accepting that your mind will wander and meditation offers the opportunity to practising bring your attention back to the breathe, in essence that is a bicep curl for your mind.
Through consistent practice, mediation can help you feel more conscious and connected for the rest of your day. There are some useful platforms out there now that can help provide some extra information and guidance on how to proactive meditation like headspace or calm. These platforms are designed to support the modern day lifestyle and give a framework of how to begin your meditation journey.
With our modern-day lifestyle we are surrounded by technology, fast paced environments, and digital noise. Digital tools like our phones and laptops admit positive ions which, despite having ‘positive’ in the term, are small molecules that have gained a positive charge and too much exposure can have negative effects on our health including higher inflammation levels, mood swings, chronic pain, worsened allergies, and more..
Negative ions are produced in nature and studies suggest that they can reduce symptoms of depression for some people. Studies have also shown that negative ions have significant effects on other areas of our health including helping to regulate our sleep patterns, reduce stress, boost immune system function and increase metabolism of carbs and fats.
Therefore, allocating time for yourself to go outside, take walks ideally through a park, the woods, open areas or wherever you can be outside. Getting outdoors is good for body, mind and spirit, and keeps you in the present. Without looking at your phone of course.
Finally getting in some regular exercise, like meditation even if its 5 minutes a day, has a significant effect on your mood. Through this pandemic it has shown us that we don’t need to take out a £40 gym membership and a few different exercises and home equipment can do wonders. Equipment wise, the staples can be just a kettlebell, resistant bands, yoga mat and your body weight.
To help provide some information and guidance, there are endless videos and influencers on youtube who put out free content which you can follow at home. For yoga we highly recommend Alecs Donavan who puts up live sessions on instagram and routines on YouTube with simple instructions & guidance throughout.
Practice Forgiveness & Gratitude
The daily practice of gratitude also helps us to lean into the positives and away from the negative thought patterns. One is to every night before bed, say three things you are grateful for and importantly why you are grateful for them. This can help us count our blessings and lean into the positives. It may be hard at first but watch how your three things becomes quite niche and specific over time.
It’s easy to beat ourselves up and tell ourselves we aren’t good enough. We are human and will make mistakes. Forgiving ourselves and realising we are not who we were in the past is key to helping to strive towards a future you would prefer.
Do not make excuses and take ownership for your actions until now, this will help you remind yourself that you are in control of your destiny but provide room for forgiveness and understanding and a way to a more fulfilling future.
Words: Ben Hofmeister