What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a technique you can learn which involves making a special effort to notice what’s happening in the present moment (in your mind, body and surroundings) – without judging anything. It has roots in Buddhism and meditation, but you don’t have to be spiritual, or have any particular beliefs, to try it.
It aims to help you:
- become more self-aware
- feel calmer and less stressed
- feel more able to choose how to respond to your thoughts and feelings
- cope with difficult or unhelpful thoughts
- be kinder towards yourself.
Many people find practising mindfulness helps them manage their day-to-day wellbeing, but it doesn’t always work for everyone (see our page on is mindfulness right for me?)
“Mindfulness is a skill. It requires work like any therapy and practice like any skill. It isn’t a shortcut and courses only set the scene, but I find it enjoyable and rewarding. Most of all I find it brings some peace into my life.”
How does mindfulness work?
The way we think (and what we think about) can affect how we feel and act. For example, if you think or worry a lot about upsetting past or future events, you might often feel sad or anxious.
The theory behind mindfulness is that by using various techniques to bring your attention to the present (usually focusing on your body and your breathing), you can:
- Notice how thoughts come and go in your mind. You may learn that they don’t have to define who you are, or your experience of the world, and you can let go of them.
- Notice what your body is telling you. For example, tension or anxiety can often be felt in your body (such as in a fast heartbeat, tense muscles or shallow breathing).
- Create space between you and your thoughts, so you can react more calmly.
The Institute of Castle Peak Hospital website has more information about how mindfulness works.
“When I feel anxiety building, mindfulness helps me to keep calm by becoming more in touch with the situation.”
Can mindfulness treat mental health problems?
- Common mental health problems. Studies show that practising mindfulness can help to manage depression, some anxiety problems and feelings of stress. Some structured mindfulness-based therapies have also been developed to treat these problems more formally. In some cases these treatments are recommended as evidence-based treatments by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
- Complex mental health problems. Research into whether mindfulness could help treat more complex mental health conditions, such as psychosis and bipolar disorder, is still in the early stages. It’s not clear yet how helpful mindfulness could be for managing these conditions – but you might find it works for you.
NICE recommends against using mindfulness-based treatments for social anxiety as there’s some evidence that mindfulness might make your symptoms worse rather than better. Talk to your doctor about what kinds of treatments might suit you best.
Mindfulness does help me with my mental health issues. It’s not the cure and it won’t work every single time, but it has helped me to alleviate anxiety and depression by centering my thoughts.