This is a blog from @Brolaxblog – a blog that is aimed at helping men deal with anxiety issues. The regular blog can be found here. The blog covers the basics of mindfulness well; mindfulness can indeed be a powerful tool in reducing anxiety; it has decreased my own anxiety by a massive amount. However it pays to remember that mindfulness is not an overnight solution to this kind of problem. It takes time, self-compassion and practice to bring about these benefits.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice that has been growing in popularity across the western world in recent years. Essentially it involves paying attention to what’s actually going on in the present moment and letting go of or accepting any thoughts and feelings. The idea is that you will only ever have this moment to live in so it is detrimental to spend it lost in regrets of the past, worries about the future or otherwise distant from what you’re experiencing right now.
How Do I Practice Mindfulness?
There are two forms of mindfulness practice – formal and informal. Formal practice involves different methods of mindfulness meditation such as concentrating on the breath or scanning through each area of your body in turn. These are done for specific periods of time during the day or night and are in a sense a form of mindfulness training, teaching your mind and body how to focus in on the moment rather than becoming lost in thoughts.
Without performing these formal mindfulness techniques, it is very difficult to stick to informal mindfulness. Informal practice is generally paying attention to your moment to moment experience throughout the day and while you complete every day tasks. This may take the form of really concentrating on the taste and texture of your food as you eat it. How many times have you mindlessly wolfed down a tasty meal, only to wish you could eat it all over again?
How Will Mindfulness Help Me Deal With Anxiety?
I’m guessing if you’re reading this article that enjoyment of food isn’t your biggest concern. Well the benefits of mindfulness are far reaching and it’s been proven that regular mindfulness meditation can be a treatment for stress and anxiety. This is because mindfulness helps to break up the negative thought patterns that anxiety feeds off by teaching you to accept or let go these thoughts when they arise. For instance, if you have a presentation to make at work next week, a thought of apprehension may arise. If you let go of this thought and return to concentrating on what you’re doing, or simply accept that most people get nervous before speaking in front of others and you’re no exception, then your anxiety levels will stay about the same. However if you give life to the thought, it can quickly spiral into unrealistic predictions of catastrophe which increase your anxiety levels throughout the time leading up to the event.
How Do I Learn Mindfulness?
The real beauty of mindfulness lies in its simplicity. All you need to do is type ‘Mindfulness Meditation’ into Youtube to access a number of guided mindfulness exercises. This breathing exercise and this body scan are two of my favourites for regular practice and are very easy to do.
If you find that these help, then I’d recommend buying a book to help you explore the benefits of mindfulness further and learn more about the informal side of the practice. I personally learned mindfulness from an excellent book called ‘Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world’. It is an 8 week mindfulness training program and comes with a CD of meditations that cover all forms of mindfulness techniques. It’s definitely not easy and it took me two attempts to get all the way through. One thing I learned the second time around is to sit up when doing the meditations as falling into a blissful sleep, which is one of the other benefits of mindfulness meditation, is not really helpful for ongoing practice.
If self help is not for you, then there are also mindfulness courses which can help you to learn the practice. These include Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). A third of GPs are now referring people to the latter for various mental health issues and it is seen as more helpful form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) as it teaches to accept unhelpful thoughts rather battling to change them. More information on finding a course can be found at bemindful.co.uk.
Mindfulness And Men
Mindfulness doesn’t sound very masculine I admit – accepting thoughts and essentially sitting still and doing nothing as a way of dealing with our problems. It is a useful tool of relaxation for the modern man though as it can be done on the go with as little as three minutes of breathing meditation (see three minute breathing space on this page), and it doesn’t involve incense, bubble bath or a yoga mat.
Mindfulness can improve your performance at work by enabling you to prioritise what you’re working on and eliminate the stress of the rest of your workload that can wait till later. Or if you anxieties lie on the sports field, then mindfulness can be used to shut out self criticism and achieve that sort after state of being ‘in the zone’. And if you still needed further proof, Mindfulness has been tested by the US marines on the battlefield and proven to reduce anxiety in combat situations.
Mindfulness is an amazing wake up call to the autopilot that we can all find ourselves being flown by at times. And when used to cope with stress and anxiety, it can bring distance and perspective to negative thoughts. These thoughts at the end of the day are useless and things will happen regardless of what you think about them. Therefore I’ll leave you with a quote from the most influential man in modern mindfulness:
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ~ John Kabat-Zinn