You’ve probably heard the word, but do you know exactly what ‘mindfulness’ is – and if it could work for you? Our guide gives you the basics of this mental health treatment.

boy standing on beach

It's so much easier to stay mindful on a beautiful beach...

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is all about using techniques like meditation, breathing and yoga to help you become more aware of what’s going on in the present moment.

Think back to a recent sunny day – did you fully appreciate what a nice day it was as you walked along? Or a recent car journey – how much of the journey did you remember once you arrived? Mindfulness can help you to pay attention, appreciate and remember.

Luisa, 23, puts it like this: “Mindfulness is less a practice, more a way of life. It’s about becoming aware of what’s actually happening in the here and now, not focusing on what has happened or what might happen.”

You may hear some different acronyms about mindfulness flying around – here’s what they mean:

  • MBSR stands for ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction’ and often helps people who are stressed at work or in their relationships.
  • MBCT stands for ‘Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy’. It combines mindfulness techniques with elements from cognitive therapy to help mental health problems like depression and anxiety.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Through becoming more aware of each situation you’re better placed to deal with it – and finish it properly – before moving on. This means that you could see yourself have:

  • Better focus and concentration
  • Appreciating the here and now
  • Improved memory
  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels
  • Learn to deal with depression and better understand emotions

Abida, 17, has been practicing mindfulness for over a year and she’s seen many benefits. “I used to get overwhelmed by difficult emotions and then turn to negative behaviours,” she says, “but both my negative thoughts and self-harm decreased once I started doing mindfulness.”

For 27-year-old Kate, it helps her deal with everyday situations better. “It has given me a toolkit for stressful situations,” she says. “Everything from the bus being late through to being harassed in the street – I move on from setbacks more quickly than I used to.”

How do I learn mindfulness?

The beauty of mindfulness is that anyone can learn it, and there are many different ways, from self-help courses to actual classes. You may be referred to a course through your GP or mental health team, but you can also search for a private course or practitioner.

Many people choose to learn through self-help methods, such as books and online. The bemindful website has a recommended reading list with useful reviews.

If you’re hoping that mindfulness will help you to deal with a mental health issue, it’s always best to consult your GP first.

How much does it cost?

It depends on which approach you’re using. If you get a book out of a library and are dedicated to following the exercises then it’s possible to learn it for free. Or you may be referred via the NHS at no cost.

Private courses and sessions vary in price, so always look for recommendations and compare a few options and prices before deciding which is best.

What if mindfulness doesn’t work for me?

Lots of people warn that it can take a while to learn how to integrate mindfulness into your life properly, so give it time before you write it off completely.

“It isn’t going to make the world perfect and it won’t sort everything out overnight. It requires commitment and effort to actually get results, but it’s worth it in the end,” explains Luisa.

Of course, it won’t be right for everyone. If you still aren’t finding it helpful after some time then it’s worth talking to your GP about other options. If you’re looking for help with a specific mental health problem, there are lots of other talking treatments and medications you can discuss.

Next Steps

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MH treatment

By Hannah Jolliffe

Updated on 23-Dec-2015