In 2018, I was lucky enough to be invited to the first ever Global Ministerial Mental Health Summit in London.
The key note speaker was Matt Hancock, Health Minister, he was speaking to Ministers from around the world about our government’s commitment to achieving equality between mental and physical health, Mr Hancock called it a ‘bold, ambitious statement of intent’ he continued ‘For us to deliver on that pledge, on a global scale, we’re going to have to change not only the way the public thinks, but the way politicians think about mental health. Because this is the defining challenge of our age.’
Mental Health is 'the defining challenge of our age'
- Matt Hancock UK Health Secretary
Whilst the Government wrestles with how they will implement such a plan, there are things you can do to improve your own mental health and well-being.
Having a healthy mindset is probably the most important element to maintaining good Mental Health, this is to do with how you think, how you feel and how you act. In these uncertain times every day brings new worries, headlines and stories that can make us feel overwhelmed, panicked and out of control, many people are now turning to mindfulness and meditation. There was a time when mindfulness was deemed a “new age’ practice, now it seems to be the latest craze sweeping the nation, all around us people are talking about the benefits, and how people’s lives have been changed by it. It is on the cover of magazines, celebrities and entrepreneurs tell us how it brought them success.
What is this mindfulness phenomenon that boasts amongst its followers, Sir Richard Branson, Sir Paul McCartney, Hugh Jackman, William Hague, Emma Watson and Ruby Wax? does it really hold the key to happiness? And can it really improve our mental well-being and change our lives?
At its most basic level mindfulness is about learning to live in the present moment. Studies suggest that we spend an average of 43% of our waking hours, inside our own heads, worrying about an imagined future or dwelling on things that have past. We turn these thoughts into feelings, and we can start to feel worried, sad or even depressed. If we spentmore time paying attention to what is actually going on right now, we start to realise that our thoughts are not real things.
At its most basic level mindfulness is about
learning to live in the present moment
I am a mindfulness teacher based in Yorkshire and I regularly hear ‘I would love to meditate, but I don’t have time’ or ‘I can’t sit still’ or ‘I can’t quieten down my mind’ these are all things I recognise from my own practice. Mindfulness is simple but it’s not easy, like any new skill it takes practice. If you are prepared to practice, then the time you spend meditating pays back a huge return on your investment.
It is impossible to generate more hours in a day, but it is not always more time that we need to be more productive, it is more mental energy. Mindfulness creates space in our lives, and in this space, we find an improved clarity of thought, improved creativity and 'recharged' mental energy to help us cope with whatever the day throws our way.
Mindfulness is scientifically proven to lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, stress and irritability and improve memory, concentration and our ability to multi task.
You don’t need to sit and meditate to be mindful, you can walk mindfully or eat mindfully, however a good place to start your practice is to sit quietly and focus on your breath, the breath is our anchor, it has the ability to bring us into the present moment, try to take 10 minutes a day in a relaxed posture and tune into your breathing. If you cannot find 10 minutes, how about 3 minutes?
Sit comfortably in a relaxed but alert posture, sitting on a chair or on a cushion, and gently close your eyes, now become aware of the air entering and leaving your body, don’t try to change your breathing in any way, just tune into it, wherever you sense your breath, this could be in the nostrils as the air enters or your throat, chest or diaphragm. As thoughts enter your mind, choose to not engage with them and guide your attention back to the breath.
Practice this for about 3 minutes, whenever you notice your attention has wandered, and you have engaged in thinking, gently guide it back to your breath, it doesn’t matter if it wanders away once, twice or a thousand times, what matters is that you simply notice and guide your attention back to your breathing.
When you are ready bring your attention back, become aware of where you are, your body and the room you are seated in, and gently open your eyes and allow your mind to run free.
Take a moment to consider how you feel, right now, in this moment.