How can mindfulness help you cope with stress and improve your wellbeing?

A guest article with mindfulness expert Mark Randall

Have you ever felt stressed, distracted or anxious at work? Have you had trouble switching off at the end of the day, or found yourself caught in negative cycles of thought?

If you have, this article is for you.

To coincide with national stress-awareness month, we’ve teamed up with mindfulness expert Mark Randall, to discuss how mindfulness can be a powerful tool in dealing with stress and improving our wellbeing.

Mark has worked with a wide range of businesses to introduce people to the benefits of mindfulness, and we’re excited that he’s agreed to share his experience and expertise with us here.

How did you get into mindfulness yourself?

‘In the late 1980s I was managing an arthritic back condition and I was on a lot of pain medication that was actually making me feel worse. I was also dealing with a high pressure job. All this steered me into looking for alternatives.

‘My grandmother had been interested in healing and that led me to a book on the subject by a prominent mind coach of the day. It was about using simple mental exercises, just to get yourself back into the present and become more aware of things. Something in that struck a chord with me and I started using these exercises, just a few times a day.

‘After about a month the difference was incredible. Soon I was able to get off most of the pain killers, just because my mind and body were so much more relaxed.

‘At work I felt a change too. Using these techniques made me more open to others, more positive, more resilient, more aware of my surroundings. I was able to manage myself to call upon calmness and clarity when I needed it most.

‘None of this involved huge changes. I found I could do the exercises on the train in the morning, in a couple of minutes here and there at work, wherever it suited me. Once I got a feel for the general principles, I started to adapt the exercises and shape a model that worked best for me.

‘That’s one of the great things about mindfulness – it’s a broad spectrum, and you can experiment to make it your own and discover what works best for you.’

‘For many years it was just something I did, I didn’t give it a name. Then I recall, about four years ago, attending a work session on ‘mindfulness’ and thinking, ‘crumbs – I know this stuff!’ It got me thinking about sharing my approach and the potential difference it could make.

‘From there I started running sessions. It was just unbelievable to see the positive impact it was having, the numbers of people, from all walks of life, who were finding it really powerful.’

So what exactly is mindfulness?

‘In essence, mindfulness is about awareness and self-control. It’s the practice of being attentive to the present moment, stilling the mind, and tuning in to the here and now.

‘Sounds simple right? But in practice it’s far from it. Think for a moment about how the mind works. We’ve living in a world of constant activity and distraction. Our thoughts are in a perpetual state of flux, always flitting from one demand to the next. We spend a great deal of our time not in the present moment at all, but thinking back to the past or looking to the future with anxiety and expectation. We get caught up in the inner bustle of our thoughts and the noise of the world, with all its demands, and with that comes stress, negativity, a sense of being overwhelmed.

‘If we can learn to pause, tune into our senses, and simply be in the present – even if it’s only for a minute – then we can turn down all of the mental noise which causes stress. The more we do this, the more self-aware we become. We start to build a healthier relationship with our distracting thoughts and emotions, rather than being controlled by them, and to choose where we place our attention. We gain calmness, clarity, control, and with that we become more resilient, more positive, and more open and connected to others.’

Mindfulness exercises

‘There are a range of exercises and techniques we can use.

‘It can be as simple as taking a minute out of your day to sit quietly, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Feel the coldness of the air as you breathe in, the warmness of the air when you breathe out. Notice if your mind wanders from the breath and gently bring it back.

‘Some exercises involve focusing on sensations in the body, or honing in to a particular sense as you walk or to a certain mental image. It can even be as basic as just pausing to take three meaningful breaths when you’re feeling stressed.

‘These little mental pauses, put into your day, can cumulatively make a big difference in the way you think, feel and interact with the world. Little and often is the key. You can fit them into your daily schedule without any fuss and call upon them in particular moments of need. After a while, you’ll find that rather than practicing mindfulness, mindfulness becomes a natural part of your point of view.'

In our next article with Mark we’ll put this into practice, and talk through three simple mindfulness exercises to help us manage stress and improve our wellbeing.

If you want to find out more about Mark, his approach towards mindfulness and how it can help a complex workforce, visit his LinkedIn page.