Taking care of our mental health with Mindfulness
I know what you are thinking…what have a company of home visiting opticians who specialise in free NHS home eye examinations and eye care, for those in care homes, got to do with mental health issues and helping us with mindfulness?
Well our Business Strategy Lead Reshma Pancholi is our go-to holistic support for our mobile opticians and office staff and so we thought we’d ask her what could our customers be doing if they’re experiencing mental health issues during this unprecedented pandemic.
She talks us through what Mindfulness is and the techniques we can use to achieve this. Mindfulness is taking the time to slow down and observe what’s happening not only in the exterior world but in the inner world, inside our bodies and minds too. Sounds simple, but we all know just how easy it is to get sidetracked or distracted.
Bringing the idea of ‘moment to moment awareness’ into our lives as a daily practice can be really rewarding. When was the last time you actually focussed on eating your breakfast as opposed to thinking about how late you were running for work or an argument you had with your loved one.
Awareness and lack of awareness matters.
Mindfulness – Try these little exercises
When you’re next outside – stop what you’re doing, close your eyes and just listen. What can you hear? Is it the faint sounds of traffic or birdsong?
Next, touch something with your hands – the table in front of you, the clothes you’re wearing on your legs. How do they actually feel? When was the last time you noticed?
Now take notice of what you’re thinking. Just being aware of the chatter that’s going on your head right now is the first step to learning how to keep focusing on the present, rather than drifting off and brooding about other things in the past or projected future.
Mindfulness – What’s the use?
Mindfulness has gained in popularity very quickly, for good reason. Some people find that reconnecting with themselves and their surroundings gives them respite from everyday stresses that can become overwhelming. Best of all, it doesn’t need special training – although it definitely needs practice.
By reconnecting consciously with your external and internal landscape, you can learn to become more aware of the things around you. And as time goes on, you should feel more able to ‘be in the moment’ – which means less time spent on regrets of the past or worries for the future.
Mindfulness can help is to:
- Start taking pleasure in our surroundings that we’ve been taking for granted.
- Become aware of how easy it is to get caught up in a spiral of unhelpful worries.
- See ‘stories’, patterns of thoughts emerging. With time, you can learn to recognise when unhelpful flows of thought are taking over, and challenge and divert those patterns to more helpful and realistic thoughts.
- Recognise that thoughts are just ‘mental events’, and fight the temptation to let them control your mood and behaviour.
- Pick up early on signs of emerging stress or anxiety. This lets you use coping mechanisms to tackle them before they get out of control.
- Reduce the risk of depression, which can be triggered or fuelled by cycles of negative ‘automatic thoughts’ arising from how you’re feeling.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) takes a pretty tough line on demanding high-quality evidence before it recommends anything. But it does recommend mindfulness for preventing depression for some people.
Mindfulness – How do I start?
Don’t even think about switching overnight to living a completely mindful life. You’ll be amazed how quickly your mind gets distracted. But with a little practice, three minutes will become five, then ten – and in time, you’ll learn to tune in again to your surroundings whatever you’re doing.
Take yourself ‘off’ autopilot
It’s all too easy to do everyday tasks without thinking. If they’re not fun, you might think that’s not such a bad thing but even taking time to smell the fresh clothes or feeling smooth cloth under your fingers while you’re doing the ironing can bring back happy memories.
Harness the power
Use your mobile to set yourself a regular reminder (maybe during your lunch break) to make time for mindfulness. You can download lots of free apps, which offer short mindfulness tutorials you can access each da (for example try these links: mindfulness resources at www.calm.com , and meditation tips at https://headspace.com).
Now switch off
Commit to 15 minutes technology-free while you practice mindfulness. It will still be there when you get back!
Take the time
Find a slot in your day (ideally at the same time every day, so it becomes a routine) when you can set aside just 10-15 minutes to begin with. You may build that up over time, but the real key is to commit to taking that time out.
You don’t need to be sitting cross-legged with your palms outstretched. You don’t need to be sitting in a sun-dappled garden. But ideally, you should be sitting in a comfortable environment.
Mindfulness isn’t about achieving nirvana, or going into a peaceful trance. It’s about paying attention to the here and now, and noting what’s happening without passing judgement (either positive or negative).
Make a mental note
If you do find your mind wandering off on to a worry, acknowledge the concern, park it for later, and bring your thoughts back to the present. Focusing on one element of your immediate surroundings – the feel of the sun on your face, the sound of distant traffic, your breathing – should help re-focus you.
Don’t judge yourself
A bit like riding a bike, practising mindfulness comes naturally once you’re used to it, but it’s normal to find it tough to focus when you’re starting out. Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t cut off outside thoughts in your mind when they start encroaching, just bring your mind gently back to the present moment.
Don’t give up on your mental health
You may find you can only focus on your mental health for three minutes when you start – and that’s just fine. Try to build up gradually, one minute at a time.
There’s no rush. Be here now.
This blog has been adapted from an article about mindfulness posted on https://patient.info.
These are unprecedented times and although we can’t deliver our FREE NHS funded comprehensive home-visiting optician service for those unable to make it to a high street optician at the moment. We can’t wait to come out of this and once again have our highly qualified and experienced opticians helping you with a professional and safe service to our patients, from our thorough eye test at home (with eye health checks) through to the glasses being personally hand delivered and fitted.
You may qualify for a free NHS eye test at home if you are unable to visit an optician unaccompanied due to their physical health or mental health problems and you are aged 60 and over, for example. To check if you are entitled to a free home eye test please check out our eligiblity page https://opticalleyecare.co.uk/eligibility/ on our website.