Five years ago it was unusual to see any adverts in the UK campaigning for mental health awareness, except the occasional low budget, patronising commercial. With a current epidemic in mental illness, there’s been a surge in advertising more awareness- on both a mass and an individual scale. Whether the significant rise in mental illness is due to less taboo around the subject, more people encouraging openness, or misplaced understanding of emotions; there’s no denying that the Western society need more coping mechanisms for daily life.
Drawn from Buddhist practises, specifically Vipassana meditation, Mindfulness is simultaneously an ancient Eastern custom, and a powerful phenomenon that’s shaping the West’s approach to psychology. Recognised for its effectiveness in allowing the practising individual to engage and understand their emotions better, whilst increasing self-awareness, Mindfulness is now used by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (who work on behalf of the NHS) as the primary treatment for preventing relapse in depression in the UK.
A leading professor in the field of Mindfulness and its psychological uses, Jon Kabat-Zinn discusses further in an academic article Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present, and Future:
The universe of mindfulness […] has the potential to contribute profoundly to the further development of the field of clinical psychology and its allied disciplines, behavioural medicine, psychosomatic medicine, and health psychology, through […] a broadening of research approaches to mind/body interactions
In align with Jon Katat-Zinn’s research; Professor Mark Williams – the founding director and honorary senior research fellow at Oxford University – explores the use of mindfulness as ‘primary treatment in preventing relapse and recurrence in major depression’. His Department of Psychiatry- Medical Sciences Division propose Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) as an alternative to medication.
In an interview with Shakiba Moghadam, who has a bachelor in Science in Psychology and who recently attained a Masters in Science in Sport Psychology from the University of Portsmouth, Shakiba explains to us the power of Mindfulness:
Can you tell us a bit about mindfulness and it’s medical and psychological uses and benefits? Who can it benefit?
Mindfulness has been around for centuries. Its use has always been known as an alternative method to medication. Benefits of mindfulness include many things, but mainly, it’s the ease of use in its methods. Once one has mastered the necessary skills of learning about mindfulness, it can be practiced anywhere, anytime, and by anyone. It’s not a one off method but a way of life.
The idea originates from looking at yourself almost from the outside […] knowing how to control your thoughts and thus your actions and reactions to others and your surroundings.
Mindfulness can benefit anyone, absolutely anyone. Unfortunately we have been conditioned by society to seek mental health help when we are at our complete lowest and perhaps suicidal for some. But we should be looking after our mind as well as our bodies- mindfulness is a way to keep your mind in good shape! Fortunately, mindfulness has no side effects, it doesn’t cost anything and it can only become a good habit!
Does mindfulness tie in with meditation, as well as other spiritual practises? And can these be combined to create a more consistent peaceful state of mind as well as increased self-awareness?
Yes, 100%!! Meditation is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever practiced in my life. The connection you feel within yourself is beyond incredible. I always see myself in my most vulnerable state and usually wake up crying, not because I’m upset but because I have let go of that little bit of ego that may be lingering around. Mindfulness does tie in with other spiritual practises but I think what’s important is that people see it as their own experience and own journey, it shouldn’t be compared to someone else’s experience.
Spiritual has many meanings, for me, it’s about being able to tap into my unconscious and connect with my higher self (i.e. The vulnerable person that appears whilst I meditate). Practicing these techniques, even for five minutes per day, can have a positive effect not just on yourself and your mental state but towards others as well, perhaps you smile more or become more generous, whatever it may be, mindfulness will change you in more than one way- but it takes time, commitment and patience with yourself and your thoughts. The more self aware you become the more life will become more meaningful and rewarding.
How do you achieve a mindful life- are there any simple techniques you can do?
One of the most simplistic techniques of mindfulness is to learn to control your breathing. Really tap into your heartbeat, try and hear it over your busy lifestyle. That’s your heart, beating for your life. It’s fascinating. Try and control your heart, your thoughts and your breathing. Life has a way of ‘testing’ everyone; it will make you upset and angry, but try to react with your best intentions, as hard as it seems at the time.
Be mindful of how you walk, look confident with every stride and step. Be mindful of your eating, chew slowly and taste every flavour. And for the more mature ones, try and love and make love mindfully, take in and feel every sensation- it will feel better.
The vast benefits of Mindfulness as a therapy is indeed not limited to depression, but has been used to transform the lives of those suffering from anxiety, eating disorders, epilepsy, migraines, cancer patients- and an extensive variety of other ailments. One of the most potent achievements of mindfulness has been its use in curbing- and even resolving- addiction.
‘Craving to Quit’ is a phone app ‘that incorporates research on mindfulness training. The app was created by Dr Judson Brewer, former medical director at Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic’ – it takes three weeks to complete. In an article by online magazine, Mindful, it’s explained how Brewer created the app in 2009, where he ‘conducted a [four week] study that suggested mindfulness approaches to smoking cessation might be beneficial’. With an average age in the group of 46, each of which smoked a pack a day, of the 88 participants some used mindfulness training, whilst others used the American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking Program (source). Dr Brewer reports:
At the end of four weeks, 36 per cent of the mindfulness training group had quit smoking, versus 15 per cent of the Freedom From Smoking group. After 17 weeks, the success rate was 31 per cent versus 6 per cent
Dr Brewer encouraged a variety of methods. He states that the people where the treatment was most prominent, were the ones who noted down the way that they were feeling when they were craving a cigarette. Named as ‘Associative Learning’, Dr Brewer explains in an Q&A with Mindful Magazine, how this is how you ‘stay on top of this wave rather than clobbered by it’
These techniques encourage us to become more aware of our emotions and consequent actions; to lose the robotic nature we naturally reside in. Whether it’s in targeting aggressive re-occurrence in mental illness, addiction, or more generalised bad habits, each circumstance requires the re-introduction of the conscious link between thought and action.
You can help yourself to maintain mindfulness by using phone apps such as ‘headspace’ as well as checking out books, such as Dr David Penman’s ‘The Art of Breathing’
Here’s Shakiba’s step-by-step guide to mastering mindfulness:
Depending on your bad habit always start with recognising the problem at hand:
- Separate yourself from negative thoughts
- Take note of all the positive aspects of yourself (ie personality, funny jokes, cooking etc)
- Don’t take note of all the fake things around you (I.e. Social media)
- Learn about your self-worth
- Be present in the moment. Enjoy your own company.
- Learn to be mindful by paying attention to all your actions, from your breathing to your eating, to how you walk and how you talk.
Shakiba will be starting a PHD in October 2017, which will investigate the mental health literacy of rugby union players, referees and players. She will be giving a talk about the importance of recognising mental health disorders in children and how a child’s upbringing and environment impacts their mental state in their adulthood at prestigious event Mind Over Matter on 31st August 2017.