Mindfulness & Mental Well-Being
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Dear Editor,

UNTIL now, conversations around mental health have focused on depression, but a University of Cambridge report published in the medical journal, Brain and Behaviour, suggested anxiety could be a much bigger problem. People with anxiety tend to be hyper-vigilant to negativity and worry excessively about the future; whereas, those with depression tend to dwell on bad things about themselves.

It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental well-being. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness.”

Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick in the UK and a well-being expert, says: “Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental well-being,” as are self-esteem and self-confidence, a feeling that you can do the things you want to do, and good relationships, “which bring joy to you and those around you.”

Of course, good mental well-being does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual. It can help to think about “being well” as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.

“No one can give well-being to you. It’s you who have to take action,” says Professor Stewart-Brown. Reminding yourself to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and the world around you is the first step to mindfulness. “Even as we go about our daily lives, we can notice the sensations of things, the food we eat, the air moving past the body as we walk,” says Professor Williams. “All this may sound very small, but it has huge power to interrupt the ‘autopilot’ mode we often engage in day to day, and to give us new perspectives on life.”

Pick a regular time – the morning journey to work or a walk at lunchtime– during which you decide to be aware of the sensations created by the world around you. Trying new things, such as sitting in a different seat in meetings or going somewhere new for lunch, can also help you notice the world in a new way.

You can practise mindfulness anywhere, but it can be especially helpful to take a mindful approach if you realise that, for several minutes, you have been “trapped” in reliving past problems or “pre-living” future worries. As well as practising mindfulness in daily life, it can be helpful to set aside time for a more formal mindfulness practice. Mindfulness meditation involves sitting silently and paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body, bringing your attention back whenever the mind starts to wander

Five things that, according to research, can really help to boost your mental well-being:
* Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
* Be active – you don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling, play a game, draw, sing… find any activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
* Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, figure out how to fix your bike or repair broken furniture or torn clothing?
* Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you, a kind word, helping an elderly person cross the road, carrying bags for a pregnant woman or stopping to chat with a lonely person. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, school or hospital can improve your mental well-being and help you build new social networks.
* Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you.

One theory for the rise in anxiety is that whilst we are digitally connected, we are less connected to each other that people used to be a couple of decades ago. Daily life is also less communal and collaborative as more and more people are becoming individualistic, particularly when compared with life in the past. And yet, we all want to be accepted and liked. Being excluded from a group to which we want to belong is a real terror for many people today. Whether the result of fear of missing out or fear of being left out, anxiety can be seriously life-limiting and that’s no fun at all.

The Caribbean Voice

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