It’s hard to read anything these days without coming across the subject of mindfulness. It seems to be everywhere and everyone is doing it. But is it just a fad? Is mindfulness just a craze that will be pushed out by the next big thing?
What is mindfulness?
Let’s start by defining mindfulness. Mindfulness is best described as ‘the regular practice of present moment awareness in a non-judgemental fashion’. In practical terms, this means training your mind to pay attention to the present instead of thinking about the past or the future. The aim is to practise without judging yourself or trying to achieve any particular outcome. It’s a mental skill that takes time, and practice, to develop.
Why might we need mindfulness?
We know that to be healthy we should eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. Many are adding mindfulness to the list of ways to stay healthy. You might find yourself wondering if we actually need mindfulness in the same way that we need a balanced diet and exercise. In other words, is there an actual biological need for it?
The answer may well be yes.
Over thousands of years our brains evolved to help us cope with situations of danger in order to survive. These were sudden situations such as the appearance of a predator or running out of food. Our brains evolved to respond to these situations immediately and so the stressful experience didn’t last very long. By contrast, we now live in a modern world and we’re constantly surrounded by stressful situations. Some stresses come from the external world, such as long working hours, constant emails and commuting. Others come from ourselves, such as setting ourselves challenging goals, having a daily ‘to do’ list or wanting to succeed. Our brains haven’t evolved to cope with this chronic stress – evidence suggests it can harm our health and wellbeing.
Our current situation can be best described as ‘living with an old brain in a new world’. So what’s the solution? We could wait several thousand years for our brains to evolve, or we can find ways to help our ‘old’ brain to cope. Neuroscientists and psychologists have been developing methods to do exactly this, and mindfulness is one of them.
Does mindfulness work?
Mindfulness essentially offsets the chronic stress of modern life that our brains haven’t yet evolved to cope with. It’s a skill you can learn and use in your daily life. When people practise mindfulness regularly, it can reduce stress and burnout, and increase mental wellbeing.
Around the world, many people are studying the benefits of mindfulness to mental wellbeing. Mindfulness is being used more and more for medical purposes because scientific studies have shown that it works. Experts at the University of Oxford have found that if you experience recurrent depression, mindfulness works as well as antidepressant medicines in preventing new episodes. As a result, a treatment known as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is now recommended for use by the NHS.
So is mindfulness a fad?
Whether or not mindfulness continues to remain popular will, in part, depend on the level of awareness of mental health in our society. As a society we often don’t find it easy to talk about stress and mental health. Being more open to talking about our individual struggles, and about mental health in general, will help us to face the chronic stress of our modern lives. When we acknowledge the problems we have, we are more open to finding solutions.
Mindfulness is a solution that answers a real human need. What’s more, the benefits are strongly backed by scientific evidence. In the past 10 years, mindfulness has been increasingly used by large corporations, clinics, schools and the Government. Mindfulness, it seems, is something that’s here to stay.
Mindfulness is a great way to nurture your mental health. Our health insurance allows you to skip GP referral in some cases, and speak straight to a consultant.