What is mindfulness training and how it can help your mental health
What is mindfulness training and how can it transform your mental wellbeing. Samantha Murray, pentathlete and Vitality Performance Champions explains
The health of our minds can be tricky to understand. We can’t physically see it, yet, it is so impactful to our day to day experience of life. I believe the best way to manage mental health is to have a plan for each day.
By mapping out our daily and weekly routines, we can maximise our time and make sure to tick all the boxes when it comes to taking care of ourselves.
When I was 16 - 18, I was studying for my A Levels. I also trained each day before and after school and had competitions on the weekends.
Life was busy and full of challenges
For me, prioritising my sleep (making sure I got 8-10 hours each night), eating 3 quality nutritious meals a day, finding some downtime to relax and then a good plan for my studying and training; meant that I felt I could manage each day and gradually work in good balance towards my goals.
Looking back, I wish I’d known about mindfulness training.
It wasn’t until I was about 20 years old and at university that a psychologist introduced the concept of training my mind each day as I would my body.
By taking 10 - 15 minutes each day in a quiet private spot, to close my eyes and follow a guided meditation via an app, meant that I could train my brain to have better control, focus and clarity.
This improved my daily mood and performance both in exams and competitions. I used to get so anxious before a deadline or exam at school as I would think about the outcome: ‘What if I fail?… What if I just don’t know the answer?… I might lose and miss my chance to compete for my team/GB…’
It was always negative, and the worst outcome focused rather than staying present and in the moment.
I used to get outbreaks of spots on my face before exams due to stress and I would be rude or frustrated towards my family and friends before an important competition.
Thankfully, I learnt how to control my reactions to my emotions due to the self-focus and awareness I gained through mindfulness training. I wish I’d known sooner about using it as a tool to support my mental health. My coach once gave me some excellent advice about mental health.
He explained that “We are so lucky to have so many choices in our lives, from what we eat, who we hang out with and also what we do in general”.
The most important thing though, is to accept responsibility for what we have done and how we arrived where we are today.
If we take control and ownership of our present moment, then we can make informed and clever choices for our next steps or future in general. Life is ours to lead.
How and what we choose to do is totally in our control
This was really helpful when it came to the big choices and moments, and I was really grateful for his guidance. Sometimes though, it can just be tricky to feel ‘ok’ and life can seem a bit lost or slow.
I think social media makes us feel as if lots of people are leading really exciting lives and ours are perhaps boring or not enough in comparison. During the lockdowns, I focused on finding simple, free things that made me feel uplifted and brought me joy.
I remembered how much I enjoyed reading (something I’d not done in ages!) and went outside each day for a walk on my own.
Both of these helped to keep my mental balance in check.
My advice is to have the exciting stuff to look forward to and aim for, but also make sure to maximise each day based on what we need to do for our health and check in on our feelings.
It is a continual process and one to maintain awareness of as mental health impacts life so much and will enviably have its ups and downs. It’s a journey we are all on together.
Vitality health insurance offers members up to eight online or face-to-face Talking Therapy sessions each year, including counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
How to stay active in the winter months
Staying active at the best of times is hard, but especially when the weather is wet and cold. Here are five ways to keep moving during the darker months
How to look after your mind with these 5 simple tools
Even though people are actively choosing to prioritise their wellbeing, it’s sadly not improving, and men in particular are struggling with the ‘wellbeing dilemma’
Changing the game: Celtic FC shine a light on mens health
Vitality has teamed up with Celtic FC and its number one, Joe Hart, to hear how the conversation is changing this Men’s Health Awareness month