Mindfulness: how to feel better in the present

It's very easy to go through life without really paying attention to what happens around us. While planning ahead for tomorrow, next week or next year can be useful, if we do so at the expense of how we feel in the present, it can have a detrimental effect on our mental wellbeing.

Becoming aware of our thoughts and feelings in the here and now has been called mindfulness, and can be developed by following a few simple steps.

Feeling good about your life and yourself, and being able for it to progress in the way you want is all important for a good sense of mental wellbeing. To some people, good wellbeing may mean possessions, such as their house or car, or even their occupation. However, most evidence suggests the key to good mental wellbeing is the way we think about things.

Noticing sights, smells, sounds and tastes throughout your day, as well as how you are thinking and feeling are all important parts of becoming more aware of the present moment. This process can help us understand ourselves better, which in turn can help in our day-to-day life.

So what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness involves an awareness of what is happening inside and outside us on a moment-by-moment basis. This is especially important if we are feeling tired, stressed or busy, when we may be suffering from "tunnel vision" for one goal or another.

Having an awareness over our thought process at a particular moment in time can ensure we make positive changes. Stopping and thinking about how you are feeling can help control emotions and behaviour when you are caught in certain circumstances.

Many people may find themselves wishing they'd said something that was on their mind in the past, or worrying about meetings with their boss, or even just being in an environment they aren't comfortable in, and this can put them in an unhelpful thought process.

If you can untangle that thought process it can go a long way towards helping. After all, meetings with the boss don't have to be a bad thing, or you may get a chance to say what was on your mind another time. Taking a step back can help us to realise that our thoughts don't have to control us and can allow us to move on in a more positive way. This can especially help people who suffer with anxiety.

Studies into mindfulness suggest that programmes can help gradually improve mood and reduce stress over a number of weeks.

Taking the first step

The key to mindfulness is to consider how you are feeling, and to pay attention to your surroundings as you go about your day. It is very easy to drift into "autopilot" and routine, which may stop us trying new things. Even something as simple as eating somewhere different at lunchtime, or taking an alternative route to work in the morning, can help with this.

Another problem can be looking back on to past problems, or worrying over something which might happen in the future. If you are aware you sometimes think like this, trying to let the thoughts fly by without dwelling on them can help. If you can do this instead of trying to change them, they can become nothing more than a mental event which you no longer have to worry about. This process takes practice, so it may help if you write the thoughts down at first.

Practising mindfulness

There are several activities that can help promote mindfulness. Setting aside a few minutes in your day can really help you become aware of how you are thinking and feeling, so you may want to consider taking up:

Meditation: sitting in silence and thinking about breathing can help to stop the mind wandering, keeping you in the present moment

Yoga: taking part in a series of postures to stretch and flex the body, paying attention to the way you breathe can also have the same effect

T'ai chi: slow movements and an emphasis on breathing can also help.