We can all become overwhelmed from time to time. With the increasing demands of daily life, the need to be constantly contactable at all hours and the shift to services providing predominantly self-service options we can become overloaded. Add the high pressure role of #EventProf into the mix and you can easily see where these stresses can mount and lead to a burnout.
Stress can affect us profoundly: it can alter our mood, make us susceptible to illness and it can even physically alter the parts of our brains that are in charge of thinking and perceiving, resulting in a negative impact on our mental health. We know that stress is a fact of daily life and a lot of the time it’s hard to escape its effects. Whether you have a diagnosable mental health disorder or not, it’s important that you feel equipped to deal with the pressures you face in the day-to-day. And that’s where mindfulness can help.
If you have any interest in the mental health community, you will have no doubt heard of the 3rd wave phenomenon that is sweeping the nation and picking up momentum as it goes. Mindfulness at its simplest is a type of training that enhances your ability to intentionally be aware of and pay attention to what is happening around you, moment by moment. It’s about taking time to recognise how you’re feeling and noticing the surrounding world: your emotions, thoughts and sensations, without judgement or preference for a specific outcome. When you begin practising mindfulness, the goal is to change the way that you think about and act on your environment and problems. By developing these skills, you can equip yourself with the resources to cope with the everyday stress life brings.
The good news is, if you start practicing mindfulness and commit to the approach, the benefits of practicing mindfulness can continue throughout your lifetime, and if practice becomes habit you can benefit from a whole host of positive outcomes!
Practicing mindfulness brings with it a whole host of benefits which extend far beyond being better able to cope with the demands of your job to increasing life satisfaction and general wellbeing. Whilst Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has been effectively used to benefit those with mental health problems, it can be a great resource for just about anybody. Think of it as a preventative rather than prescriptive process: practicing mindfulness can help to buffer you from potential mental health disorders and allow you to better cope with whatever life may throw at you.
Benefits include decreased symptoms of stress, anxiety and ADHD with improvements to attention, alertness, conflict resolution, working memory, pain management and high level thinking. Some research has even shown that practicing mindfulness can actually positively alter the parts of your brain involved in perspective taking, emotion regulation and learning and memory!
So we’ve established that stress is pretty bad and mindfulness is pretty good, but that doesn’t help you too much does it? Mindfulness courses are often upwards of £200, making them inaccessible to the masses. Well, fear not. We’re going to go through a few very simple mindful tactics that will get you started with your own practise.
Just as with any kind of therapy, mindfulness is not a quick fix. It requires dedicated practice refocusing your attention to the present moment. However, if you’re looking for a way to get the most out of mindfulness with minimum input, this is a good place to start.
Gratitude is the biggest happiness yielding emotion and it can predict a person’s wellbeing even better than their personality! In fact individuals who express gratitude regularly have more positive relationships, higher self-acceptance and increased environmental mastery. Expressing gratitude can help us to deal with difficult times by putting things into perspective. Think of your mood like an ocean. In a stormy period, your mood can go from very low to rather high. Mindfulness tries to make your mood like a calm ocean at high tide: more consistent, generally more positive and fewer extreme lows.
So our first tip to you is to keep a gratitude journal. Start by thinking of the things you are grateful for. You can do this any time, although it’s best to do it at the same time every day. Remember, the key to mindfulness is making mindful thinking a habit. I think it’s best do fill in your journal just before bed, that way you can reflect on the day’s events.
Write three things you are grateful for. Every day. No missed days. No compromises. They can be however big or small as you like. If you’ve had a bad day and can’t think of anything, you can go as simple as “I’m grateful I have a roof over my head, I’m grateful I have access to clean water and I’m grateful I am alive”. If you mention another person in your journal, give them a text to thank them personally. You’d be surprised by the gratitude that others feel when they receive and out-of-the-blue message from you recognising their efforts. Over time, you’ll find yourself noticing more and more things you’re grateful for which will increase your mood and the mood of those around you (as you begin expressing your gratitude more). If you’re feeling particularly grateful to someone and you can’t summarise why in a line, write a letter to that person, then call them and read it aloud.
If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself agonising over things that you can’t control. Maybe something’s gone wrong at work and there is no feasible solution. Event profs are particularly susceptible to this ruminating way of thinking. We are so used to having everything under control that when something goes wrong it can be hard to move forward. The idea that if you can’t control an outcome, there is no benefit to worrying about it, is a freeing one. Without your mind being occupied by pointless worrying and ruminating, you are free to move forward and get on with your day. Now, achieving this worry-free state of mind is easier said than done. Mindfulness does not promote pushing thoughts away, rather taking the punch out of them. So you can still experience the worry, but from a detached, curious perspective and without judgement. When you find your mind wondering to these kinds of thoughts, bring. your attention back to the sensations you’re feeling in the present moment. Think of those thoughts like clouds in the sky: they will blow past, but behind the clouds the blue sky still exists and will return. A great way to reset if you find your mind wondering too much is through body scan.
Find a quiet place to sit comfortably. Make sure your posture is aligned but not tense. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths, then closely pay attention to how you’re feeling in the present moment. Your bodily sensations, any pain or discomfort and examine them with curiosity and without judgement. Acknowledge their presence. Start with the tip of your head and gradually scan down your body noticing the sensations as you go. Once you’ve done this checking in a few times take a few more deep breaths and open your eyes. You should feel a little more in tune with yourself and better able to cope with the day. We can tend to go on autopilot when things get stressful. This checking in can help you acknowledge how you’re feeling and find moments of joy in the day-to-day.
So there you go, a quick introduction to mindfulness and how it can help you not get bogged down in the stresses of daily life.
About the Author
Ella Prendergast is a Digital Content Executive at HeadBox, the UK’s first online marketplace for meeting, offsite and event Spaces. She’s a psychology graduate, #EventProf and has practiced mindfulness for the last 4 years.