When we approach crucial junctions in our lives, our mental health is put under more pressure. Finishing sixth form or college is one of these junctions, our life could go in a number of directions. You might be preparing for living away from home for the first time, or anticipating exam results and university offers.
Not knowing exactly what life on the horizon will look like can send the mind into overdrive. When there are a lot of variables up in their air that could impact our future in different ways, it’s natural to find your mind scanning the environment for every potential threat in a bid to prepare.
Our minds doing this once served an evolutionary purpose, we were able to predict and respond to legitimate threats in our environment. Today, in modern life, it often gives rise to unnecessary feelings of stress and anxiety. We can find ourselves worrying about worst case scenarios or ‘catastrophising’.
Though we can’t remove stressful events or junctions from our lives, sometimes stressful thoughts can unnecessarily take a hold over us. Mindfulness is a way of loosening that grip. It is a way of letting go and bringing your awareness to the present, where it can’t be focussed on worrying about the past or future. Mindfulness helps us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we’re better able to cope with them.
Mindfulness might sound simple but it has been proven to have a big impact in reducing levels of stress and anxiety. The Mental Health Foundation's own online mindfulness course BeMindful has been proven by an independent University of Oxford study to reduce anxiety levels by as much as 58%, and depression by 57%.
Mindfulness doesn’t tell us that certain thoughts are right or wrong, or that a certain way of thinking is bad for us. It simply teaches us to become aware of them so that we can step out of autopilot and dis-identify with them. To try mindfulness, why not download one of the many apps available such as Headspace or the Calm app.
Once learnt, mindfulness is a tool we can use anywhere, anytime to improve our lives and manage stress. We can entrench it into everyday life. For example, when brushing your teeth or putting on make-up in the morning, bring your attention intensely into that moment, paying attention to each brush stroke and how it feels. When you take a shower, focus your mind intensely on the stream of water, the sensation of individual drops as they hit you and the sound of the running water as it splashes. Doing this often can make us conscious of how often we worry about the past or fret about the future.
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Cal Strode is a mindfulness expert from The Mental Health Foundation, helping students manage stress. Their vision is for a world with good mental health for all and to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health. Prevention is at the heart of what they do, because the best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it from happening in the first place.