MIND­FUL­NESS — RE­DUC­ING STRESS

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - RAPID DIET -

We all know what it is like to feel stressed. To get out of bed and worry about the day ahead, al­low­ing self-crit­i­cal and un­help­ful thoughts to rat­tle around in­side our heads. Too much stress can lead to com­fort eat­ing, de­pres­sion and in­som­nia. Say­ing, “Pull yourself to­gether” rarely works. But you can counter these neg­a­tive thoughts by mak­ing yourself more “mind­ful”. In­stead of ob­sess­ing, take time out to look at yourself and your thoughts in a less judge­men­tal, more rea­son­able way.

Mind­ful­ness is a mod­ern take on the an­cient prac­tice of med­i­ta­tion. The good news is you don’t need to be re­li­gious or go on a re­treat to a Ti­betan monastery to do it. You can buy books about mind­ful­ness, but it’s not re­ally some­thing you need to read about; it’s some­thing you need to do. I rec­om­mend join­ing a group or down­load­ing an app that will guide you through the process.

The app ses­sions are short — at first it’s just 10 min­utes, then 15 min­utes, and fi­nally 20 min­utes, so it’s not a par­tic­u­larly time-con­sum­ing thing to do. You may be cyn­i­cal, but it re­ally is worth try­ing. I find it re­duces crav­ings and helps me sleep bet­ter.

When I’m do­ing a mind­ful­ness ses­sion, I sit in a com­fort­able chair, turn on my app, rest my hands on my thighs and close my eyes. Then, guided by the app, I spend the next few min­utes try­ing to fo­cus on my breath. I pay at­ten­tion to the sensation of the breath go­ing through my nos­trils, fill­ing my chest, ex­pand­ing and con­tract­ing my di­aphragm. I try to stay fo­cused on this task and when I no­tice that my thoughts have drifted, which they do, I bring them back to my breath.

I try to treat thoughts like bal­loons that drift into my con­scious­ness; once I have no­ticed they are there, I sim­ply al­low them to drift way. I say “sim­ply”, but when you first start, you will find it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to stop think­ing about dead­lines, food, the over­draft, the kids, your ex-partner, etc... You might start think­ing, “This isn’t work­ing, what is Michael Mosley on about?” Put those sus­pi­cious thoughts aside; it will get eas­ier.

Like any skill, prac­tice makes per­fect. Mind­ful­ness can be very ef­fec­tive in a sur­pris­ingly short time. In a re­cent study, re­searchers took 15 vol­un­teers who had never tried any­thing like mind­ful­ness and put them through a brain scan­ner. They also got them to fill in an anx­i­ety ques­tion­naire.

The vol­un­teers then did four ses­sions of mind­ful­ness train­ing, spread over four days, and the tests were re­peated. Anx­i­ety rat­ings fell by 39pc. The re­sults also showed that ac­tiv­ity also in­creased in the ar­eas of the brain that con­trol wor­ry­ing, par­tic­u­larly the ven­tro­me­dial pre­frontal cor­tex and the an­te­rior cin­gu­late gyrus. This sup­ports the claim that mind­ful­ness strength­ens our abil­ity to ig­nore neg­a­tive thoughts and feel­ings.

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