Wellbeing and Engagement Coach and Trainer, Caroline Suggett, takes a look at the topic of mindfulness and explains the techniques you and your staff can use to help you switch off from the stresses and strains of practice life…
What exactly is mindfulness?
This is a question that I do seem to encounter a lot from people, and the easiest way to describe mindfulness is like this – think of it like training in the gym, but for your brain. Brain training.
Mindfulness is an approach and a set of practices and techniques that we can all use on a daily basis to become more aware of our thoughts and help us to handle overwhelm and uncertainty. On an average day we have anywhere between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts going through our head, and the faster our pace of life, the more thoughts we have.
A lot of these thoughts are repetitive – mainly they are about the future or the past and things we can’t control. What mindfulness does is help us observe those thoughts and choose which ones to pay attention to and which ones aren’t true.
My favourite mindfulness saying is ‘thoughts are not facts’, and it is true of most thoughts. However, our body will believe these thoughts and process them as the truth, which, if the thoughts are negative or make us fearful, causes the body to kick into fight or flight stress response, and we feel overwhelmed. When this happens multiple times per day, we end up feeling exhausted and stressed.
By following mindfulness techniques, you can train yourself to be more aware and more present. Making your own choices in the here and now, rather than reacting or spending too much time and energy thinking about the past or second guessing the future.
How many things do you rush to and from each day? Some of us go hurtling in, straight into meetings, or into surgery to see patients. In those moments, how often are you present and calm when you arrive in practice?
A way to become more present, whether it be at the start of your day or when getting home from work, is by deliberately ‘arriving’. You may want to try this as you’re reading this article, or you can take it away and do it at any time you like.
Imagine you’re sitting in a chair, and you’ve got your feet on the floor. When you’re in that position, gaze down at your feet or gently close your eyes.
Focus your attention on your feet, then on the base of your feet while they’re connected to the ground.
Then move on to focussing on your legs and your thighs, then move up to your hips and your spine, and focus on any sensations you might be feeling.
Move up to focus on your shoulders, and notice how they feel, without judgement, just allowing them to ‘be’ how they are in this moment, before moving on to your head and your face, and notice whether you’re calm or whether your thoughts are jumping around all over the place. Again, just noticing, gently allowing whatever you notice to be there.
Then bring your attention to your breathing, is your breath shallow or slightly deeper, and notice any feelings or emotions you may have in this moment.
Maybe name any feelings or emotions in your head, without getting caught up in them too much. Then in your own time, open your eyes.
Now use all five senses, for example, before you start work, notice what you can SEE (and really look at those things), what you can HEAR (including background noises), what you can SMELL (maybe your coffee), what you can TASTE, and what you can FEEL (e.g. the keyboard, your pen, your body on the chair). This part of ‘arriving’ really brings you into the here and now, to be present, alert and open.
That arriving technique can be used at any time, such as when you get home from work, when you’re out walking or when you wake up in the morning, instead of looking at your phone or checking your emails.
You can be more present in the shower, focussing your mind on every moment in the shower – the feel of the water, how you choose your soap, the scent of the soap, the feel of the towel – rather than thinking about a meeting you’ve got later in the day.
You can use mindfulness even when you’re making a cup of tea. You can focus on the water pouring into the kettle, and the smell of the tea or coffee. The feel of the cup in your hands and notice the sensation of every sip.
Paying attention to every single detail during these exercises can help you to focus the mind and give your head a break from the tens of thousands of thoughts that go around each day. In this way you are training your brain to ‘let go’ of the mind chatter when you choose to. Doing this regularly helps you maintain calm, focus and equilibrium.
A mindful minute
This is another technique that you can do any time, any day, and no one will know what you’re doing. But please don’t do it when you’re driving!
Take a seat somewhere and softly close your eyes and gaze down, paying attention to your breath. Don’t change how you’re breathing in any way, just focus on your breath and count them for one minute. A whole in and out breath counts as one breath.
Your mind will want to tease you away but bring it back to the counting, following those sensations of breath from the nose all the way through the body.
That minute can be a really useful tool to bring you into each present moment and concentrate, rather than being distracted and thinking about things you can’t control.
Caroline is a wellbeing and engagement coach and trainer, a founder of ROM, and a proactive business growth consultancy based in the Midlands.