Mindfulness is all about being present and living in the moment. It can help to relieve anxiety and worry by altering your perspective.
It basically says that thinking about your breathing, and the colour of the sky is better for you than spiralling into panic about the 800 unopened emails in your inbox. Which makes sense.
A new study has found that the practice could also be the key to overcoming our deepest fears and phobias.
When you think of treatment for phobias you probably think of hypnotherapy or exposure therapy – you know, the one where if you’re scared of heights they make you go and hang out on top of the Eiffel Tower until you’re not scared anymore.
Take time to notice your breathing and feel the air flowing in and out with the rise and fall of your abdomen. If your mind wanders to thinking, gently bring it back to focusing on the breath.
When doing an activity, notice what you are doing, tune into your senses. Notice how things smell, how they taste, listen to the sounds. If you’re eating, feel the texture and the taste.
Slow down if necessary. Pay particular attention to activities when you tend to zone out, like driving, brushing your teeth or doing the dishes.
Really bring your attention to these tasks, and when your mind wanders, bring your attention back to what’s coming in through your senses.
Remember, thoughts are just thoughts, you do not need to believe them or react to them.
For more mindfulness pointers check out the NHS site.
But practicing mindfulness could prove to be a simpler, more accessible way for people to fight their fears.
A team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found practicing mindfulness could help us to react to fears in a more rational way and ‘extinguish fearful associations’.
‘Mindfulness training may improve emotion regulation by changing the way our brain responds to what we’re afraid of and reminding us that it is no longer threatening,’ said Gunes Sevinc PhD, one of the paper’s authors.
In the study, researchers used MRI brain scans and fear-conditioning tasks to look at how brain functioning changed after mindfulness meditation training.
They found that participants who learnt how to properly practice and implement mindfulness were able to better recall a ‘safety memory’ which helped them in overcoming their fear.
‘The data indicates that mindfulness can help us recognise that some fear reactions are disproportional to the threat, and thus reduces the fear response to those stimuli,’ said Sara Lazar, PhD, the study’s senior author.
‘Mindfulness can also enhance our ability to remember this new, less fearful reaction, and break the anxiety habit.’
Practically, this could mean that if you have a fear of flying, employing this mindfulness technique to pull up a ‘safety memory’ when you board a flight could make your fear dissipate.
We all want to braver – so this is definitely worth a shot.
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