Pressing Pause Podcast episode 26 How can mindfulness help in day to day life, really?
Welcome to Pressing Pause, the podcast for overthinkers.
I’m Gabrielle Treanor and I’m here to share with you ideas, inspiration and actions to empower you to spend less time overthinking and worrying and more time enjoying your life.
Hello and welcome to episode 26 where today I’m talking about mindfulness, yep, that buzzword.
It seems like mindfulness is everywhere, doesn’t it? Maybe you feel like it’s a trend with no substance, so what, really, can it do for us? How can mindfulness really help us overthinkers?
First of all, I can assure you that mindfulness is not just another health fad, there is a solid body of research backing up its effectiveness and more research is being carried out all the time so the findings are being refined and updated. Professor Mark Williams, who was the former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, is quoted on the NHS website in their section on mindfulness. He says: "It's easy to stop noticing the world around us. It's also easy to lose touch with the way our bodies are feeling and to end up living 'in our heads' – caught up in our thoughts without stopping to notice how those thoughts are driving our emotions and behaviour. An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience, and awareness of our thoughts and feelings as they happen moment to moment. It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.
He goes on to say: “Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful. This lets us stand back from our thoughts and start to see their patterns. Gradually, we can train ourselves to notice when our thoughts are taking over and realise that thoughts are simply 'mental events' that do not have to control us. Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively. We can ask: 'Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?' Awareness of this kind also helps us notice signs of stress or anxiety earlier and helps us deal with them better.”
Now, Mark Williams isn’t specifically addressing overthinkers here but doesn’t that sound familiar? ‘Living in our heads, caught up in our thoughts.’ As the research shows, and the NHS agrees, mindfulness allows you to notice when you’re getting caught up in the thoughts in your head, make some space and free yourself from them so you can get on with living your life as you really want to.
And I completely agree because my experience backs up what Professor Mark Williams says and the research shows – mindfulness makes a difference. It isn’t a magic pill that makes life super easy and sunshiney forever more because that doesn’t exist. But, practising mindfulness, learning to be more mindful as you go about your day to day life will allow you to spend less time lost in your head, recognise when you are getting tangled up in your thoughts and give you the chance to extricate yourself from the whirlwind, feel calmer and more able to deal with, and enjoy, life.
The reason that I talk so much about mindfulness and positive psychology and all that goes with it, the reason that I teach a course on how to put mindfulness into practice, is because I know how effective this stuff is and I wish I’d known about it years ago. If I had known someone like me during the last couple of decades, well, I think things would have been quite different, for the better. I wouldn’t have been living in my head, with thoughts whizzing around on a never-ending loop and I would have had guidance and information and tools from someone who really got it, who understood, to help me.
So, what difference can mindfulness really make to you?
Well, for starters practising mindfulness can reduce how much you ruminate, so how much you get stuck going over and over the same thoughts, whether it’s something that’s already happened or you wish you could change about the past, or imagining what could happen in the future, the what if-ing. You get locked into a circular thought pattern without reaching a solution and mindfulness can allow you to recognise and break that pattern, and take action to help yourself.
So then it makes sense that mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress. If you’re spending less time caught up in a million thoughts whirring around your head, trying to second guess every possible future scenario, turn back time or analyse life to the nth degree, you’re going to feel less stressed. The awareness that comes with mindfulness, being able to recognise when you’re in an unhelpful thought pattern, means that you can catch yourself when it’s happening and extricate yourself more easily. In time, with practice, you get tangled up in your thoughts less and less and you get better able to deal with it when you do.
Through this process your resilience is being strengthened as you learn to deal with your overthinking, you feel more confident about coping with life’s curveballs and it doesn’t feel like your mind is ruling your life so much.
Increasing your self-awareness is key to being more mindful and this can really benefit your family, friends and work colleagues as well as yourself. Because you’re more aware, more mindful, of how you communicate and relate to people you can feel more able to have the kind of relationships you want. And then there’s your relationship with social media, the online world and your digital devices which play a huge role in so many of our lives now.
When we overthink stuff we can get lost in what’s really behind how we’re feeling or thinking about something. Mindfulness helps us to create a little space between us and our thoughts (they’re not the same thing), to get curious and ask questions, to look at the stories we tell ourselves and to get a clearer picture of what’s going on in our heads and what’s really going on in reality. When overthinking is in hyperdrive it can skew our perception and by untangling ourselves from the thought whirlwind and focusing on what’s really happening in our lives we can get a clearer picture.
And, of course, one of the greatest benefits that comes from mindfulness is that it allows you to enjoy life more. Because when you’re not lost in your head you’re in the real world and able to experience so much more that you’ve been missing out on while away with your thoughts. It doesn’t make life rosy and perfect but you are much more likely to see and feel and experience moments that feel wonderful to you if you’re paying attention to what’s actually happening rather than being oblivious to it. There are little moments of magic, ordinary, fantastic, everyday things that you miss out on because you’re not really there, in that place, in that time. And it’s these moments that make up the rich, glorious wonder of life, the little things that you know mean so much to you when you do notice them.
I could give you countless examples – the sound of your child’s giggle, a wink from your partner, a text from a friend, the first blossom on the trees, a comfortable bed at the end of a hard day, the warmth of the sun on your skin, your favourite tune played on the radio – I could go on and on. There are opportunities throughout your day, even when life is being incredibly challenging, to experience little moments of joy if you just notice them. And mindfulness helps you to do that.
I’m not saying that practising mindfulness is easy, that you follow a handful of steps and your overthinking days are over. It takes effort and time and practise but it is SO worth it because of the difference it makes to you and in turn the people around you too. And having support along the way can help so much because you’re not having to do it all alone. That’s why there will be a private Facebook group just for the people taking my mindful living course, so that you have that support as you start to live more mindfully.
If you want to find out more about how mindfulness can help you to unstick yourself from your overthinking brain and spend more time living your life as it’s happening and enjoying it to boot, take a look at my course, Be Here Now, which starts this coming Friday 28 September. I will be closing the doors to the course in the next few days, and I’m not sure when I’ll run it again, so go to gabrielletreanor.com to read, or listen to, all the info on the course and I’d love you to join me.
I’ll also put the link to Be Here Now in the show notes at gabrielletreanor.com/podcast.
Thanks for listening, until next time, lovely people.