Hello PhD pals and happy hump day! I though I would try something a little bit different on the blog front today. If you are in any way acquainted with mental health therapies, or happen to hang around independent coffee shops with posters on the walls, you have probably heard mention of Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the next big thing in managing your mental health and appears to be sweeping the nation. Courses in Mindfulness are being offered by university counselling services, workplaces and as part of medical therapies for mental health issues. The posters for Mindfulness make some pretty grand claims and so part-intrigued, part-skeptical, I did what any good academic does. I bought a book about it, put it on my shelf and forgot about it for several months.
(Please note: Missing from the above picture is the massive pile of snotty tissues that I have amassed beside me because I have A Very Bad Cold. I can’t breathe, my head hurts, I can’t go to yoga and it is making me crotchety. Apologies if I am snarkier that usual.)
Academic Follower of Fashion – trying out the mental health therapies so you don’t have to! I have recently decided to give this Mindfulness a bash and I thought that I would keep you updated on my journey for your entertainment and edification. I have a few reasons for giving Mindfulness a go. I have completed my standard six weeks of not-entirely useful talking therapy from the University counselling service and, based on past experience, I am justifiably suspicious of any help that would be available to me through the NHS. I have made the decision not to use anti-depressants in dealing with this particular bout of depression (I think they can be helpful under some circumstances but I do not think they are helpful for me at this time) and I would like to explore alternative ways of dealing with things. I’m also a big fan of yoga ( did I mention that before?) and, while I love the physical aspects and the headspace that comes with it, I tend to zone out of a lot of the more waffly zen yogic stuff. Mindfulness and yoga seem to go fairly well together so that suits me fine!
I will be working through the 8 week course prescribed by this book right here, so chosen because it was the first thing that came up on Amazon when I searched for Mindfulness. It comes with a free CD of guided medications (A CD! I can’t remember when I last played a CD! Wait, do I even have a machine that plays CDs any more?) and it appears to be endorsed by Ruby Wax. I’m not sure that is a positive sign. On further inspection, the book is written by Mark Williams, who co-developed Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (co-developed with whom?) and some guy named Danny Penman. Apparently he’s a journalist. Who knew? Good name for a journalist though.
Well, let’s dive straight in shall we? The first few chapters of the book, as you would expect, establish a market for the book (Have you ever felt tired? Are you a bit stressed? Are you a human who does stuff and feels things? Then Mindfulness is for you!) and set out why Mindfulness is the answer to life’s problems and everything else is rubbish. The authors describe the many advantages of meditation which include reduction in nasal congestion! Hooray! Several scientific studies and clinical trials are described to illustrate the efficacy of Mindfulness in treating depression, preventing recurrence of depression and making everyone generally happier (BRAIN IMAGING KLAXON!). So far, so exactly what I expected.
The central tenet of Mindfulness seems to be that, as humans, we deal with stress or sadness or low mood in the wrong way. According to Williams and Penman, when faced stress or sadness, we unconsciously think back to all of the other times we have felt stressed out or sad. At the same time, we are trying to use the critical thinking parts of our brain to figure why we are sad and how we should fix it rather than noticing how we feel and accepting it. Apparently the best way to deal with this is through a combination of medication and switching off autopilot so we are more alive in our lives, or something.
There are two exercises in the introductory chapters of the book which are meant to lead you on to the 8 week meditation programme. I bravely and intrepidly tried them out for you lot. The first is a 3 minute meditation focusing of breathing. This is nothing new to me, we do this at yoga all the time. I put on the CD and, as instructed, thought about the way my feet felt and the sensation of my butt of the chair and how I can’t breathe because of this miserable cold. It was fine. Afterwards I did the dishes instead of leaving them until later, so maybe it worked? The second exercise was a chocolate medication (remember that I am doing this for you. This is not for my own enjoyment in any way). A slight moment of panic ensued when I thought I didn’t have any chocolate in the house but then I remembered that I had my Special Christmas Bendick’s Bittermints. I ate it in what I hope was a rough approximation of Mindfulness. I thought about the smell (Can’t smell anything. Got the cold.) and the taste (Can’t taste anything. Got the cold.) I do feel strangely better, but doing anything is better than doing nothing and so starting anything new is probably going to make you feel better at least for a bit! Sadly it had no effect on my nasal congestion.
Well, that’s your introduction to Mindfulness, everyone! The next week of the programme involves a short meditation every day and trying to be more alive while I do things like hanging up the washing. I’ll keep you posted on the status of my bunged up nose. If you have any questions about my Mindfulness adventure, just chuck them my way!