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Written by Dawn Bradly – Mental Health Practitioner
Hands up if you are ever ‘in your head’ worrying about stuff. My hand is up for this one. Hands up if something happens and your mood takes a tumble. Someone cut you up on the drive to work or you had a snotty email that has rankled you since opening it? Your kids were driving you bananas before work and you’re still feeling irritated by how your day got off to a bad start?
According to a Harvard University study, 47% of a person’s day is lost in thought. That’s nearly HALF our day! Time that we will never get back, just because we are probably ruminating over something that happened hours or days or months ago, or else worrying about what might happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Or because our thoughts have tipped us into an unhappy journey down memory lane.
By being more mindful during our day we can cut down on time lost in our negative thoughts and emotions and become more present, which has many benefits for our mental health and wellbeing. So, without further ado, here are four easy ways to weave mindfulness into your everyday life.
Starting the day with a positive mindset can make a big difference to our mood and how our day pans out. I get out of bed half an hour early so that I can have that time to myself downstairs. I use this time to make myself a good cup of coffee and sit either in my study or, at this time of year, in the garden. And to just be. I’m not scrolling through social media. I’m not checking work emails. I’m not thinking about anything except how good my coffee tastes and how beautiful my flowers look. I’m listening to the birds in the trees or to my favourite music playing in the background. It’s just my spaniel Millie and I sitting in the moment.
No matter what the day brings, I’ve had these moments just for me. That feeling of peace and calm more than makes up for getting out of bed half an hour early.
How often are you with the kids or your partner or your colleagues, but actually you’re not really there? You’re in your head thinking about things that you have to do or chewing over something that happened earlier. Not good. Not good for you and not good for those you’re with, as they know you’re not concentrating on them and what they’re saying to you.
Put everything in your head to one side and listen, truly listen, to what they are saying to you. Reflect back what they’re saying so they know that you are listening. Stop thinking about what your reply is going to be or judging them or having your own opinion. Just listen. If they then ask for your opinion or advice then go ahead. To have someone really listen to you is so powerful.
One year when I was on holiday and sitting on the beach, a crowd gathered at the water’s edge. Curious, I stood up and walked over to see what was going on. And it led to one of life’s ‘Kodak’ moments (you have to be a certain age!). There were hundreds of tiny baby turtles being released and, in a long trail, they were making their way down to the water ready to swim out to begin their life at sea! I was beside myself with excitement at seeing this absolutely wondrous sight. I quickly called over my husband and sons and I started to take photos and video this magical moment. And then I froze. I was so busy looking through a camera lens that I was losing the magic of the moment. I put my phone away and just stood in awe watching these tiny creatures begin their life’s journey. I was listening to everyone’s excited whispers and watching the huge smiles on the faces of my sons. I was watching each and every one of those baby turtles as they made their way to freedom and it was a moment I will never forget.
Yes, I’m glad I have photos and even some video, but I’m also so pleased that I remembered to truly be in the moment because it’s that feeling of absolute joy that I remember and can still feel to this day.
And it’s not just about the big moments, of course, it’s also about being present for all the little moments in our day. It’s noticing the blue sky or noticing that your son has actually picked up his discarded cup and placed it in the dishwasher, it’s noticing the blackberries growing on the side of the pavement as we take a walk or noticing that your neighbour has planted the most beautiful of apricot-coloured roses.
As humans, our brains naturally have a negativity bias, so we are much more likely to focus and dwell on the negative. Our antidote to this? Gratitude. This pandemic has taught us much, and not all of it is negative. I, for one, have become more focused on the things I’m grateful for. And I don’t just mean the big things such as my family and our health. I have a notebook (or you can buy a Gratitude Journal) and during the lockdown in January I started to write down 3 things I was grateful for and why. Every day.
What it’s taught me is to notice all the little things in my life that I have to be grateful for; my lovely cup of Italian coffee in the morning, which reminds me of holidays in the Italian Lakes, my dog who gives me comfort and love every single day, my love of reading, where I find escape into a different world, the fan in my bedroom that keeps me cool during this heatwave, the flowers that grow in my pots, providing me with colours that pop and bring a smile to my face, the words of hello from fellow early-morning walkers which help me to feel connected. It’s when you start to notice the little things that our sense of wellbeing increases. This in turn helps us to notice more of the positives – it’s a win-win!
We all lead busy lives, but even if you can take one of these tips and start incorporating it into your daily routine, you’re well on your way to become more mindful, and you’ll begin to feel the benefits.
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