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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a technique you can learn which involves noticing what's happening in the present moment, without judgement. You might take notice and be aware of your mind, body or surroundings. The technique has roots in Buddhism and meditation, but you don't have to be spiritual, or have any particular beliefs, to try it.

Mindfulness aims to help you:

  • become more self-aware
  • feel calmer and less stressed
  • feel more able to choose how to respond to your thoughts and feelings
  • cope with difficult or unhelpful thoughts
  • be kinder towards yourself.

Many people find practising mindfulness helps them manage their day-to-day wellbeing, but it doesn't always work for everyone. For more information, see our page on whether mindfulness is right for you.

Mindfulness is a skill. It requires work like any therapy, and requires practice like any skill. It isn't a shortcut and courses only set the scene, but I find it enjoyable and rewarding. Most of all I find it brings some peace into my life.

What's it like to practise mindfulness?

In this video, Rebecca, a mindfulness teacher, explains her understanding of mindfulness. This video is 5 minutes and 21 seconds long.

View video transcript as a PDF (opens new window)

How does mindfulness work?

Mindfulness works by taking your focus to the present moment and away from other thoughts.

The way we think, and what we think about, can affect how we feel and act. For example, if you think or worry a lot about upsetting past or future events, you might often feel sad or anxious.

It is understandable to want to stop thinking about difficult things. But trying to get rid of upsetting thoughts can often make us think about them even more.

The theory behind mindfulness is that by using various techniques to bring your attention to the present, you can:

  • Notice how thoughts come and go in your mind. You may learn that they don't have to define who you are, or your experience of the world, and that you can let go of them.
  • Notice what your body is telling you. For example, you might feel tension or anxiety in your body, such as a fast heartbeat, tense muscles or shallow breathing.
  • Create space between you and your thoughts. With this space, you can reflect on the situation and react more calmly.

For more information on how mindfulness works, see the Oxford Mindfulness Centre website. This organisation also provides free online mindfulness sessions.

When I feel anxiety building, mindfulness helps me to keep calm by becoming more in touch with the situation.

Can mindfulness help treat mental health problems?

Studies show that practising mindfulness can help to manage common mental health problems like depression, anxiety and feelings of stress.

There is some evidence that mindfulness could help with more complex mental health conditions, such as psychosis and bipolar disorder. But more research is needed in this area.

You might find mindfulness very helpful. Or you might feel like it doesn't work or makes you feel worse. It's important to do what works for you and your mental health. You can also talk to your doctor about what kinds of treatments might suit you best. You might find trying mindfulness is useful while waiting to receive other types of treatment.

For more information, see our page on deciding if mindfulness is right for you.

In some cases, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends some structured mindfulness-based therapies which have been developed to treat mental health problems.

However, NICE does not recommend using mindfulness-based treatments for social anxiety. This is because there's not enough evidence that it's effective.

Mindfulness does help me with my mental health issues. It's not the cure and it won't work every single time, but it has helped me to alleviate anxiety and depression by centring my thoughts.

This information was published in November 2021. We will revise it in 2024.

References and bibliography available on request.

If you want to reproduce this content, see our permissions and licensing page.

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