Mindfulness is booming in popularity. Many celebrities, including Bill Gates, Hugh Jackman and Davina McCall, have talked about its benefits in their lives and it’s increasingly recommended by doctors to relieve chronic pain, stress, anxiety, insomnia or depression. It’s now a NICE-recommended treatment for recurrent depression.
But you don’t need to be suffering from pain or mental health issues to feel the benefits of mindfulness.Mindfulness has benefits for everyone, and especially for retirees.
The truth about retirement
When health experts list the most stressful life events—e.g. moving house, divorce, bereavement, job loss and having children—retirement is rarely on their list. And retirement shouldn’t be stressful; should it? After all, there’s no more 9 to 5! No commute! No work politics, pressure from your manager or fighting for your annual leave dates. No need to do anything but exactly what you want!
It sounds idyllic. Like it’s guaranteed to reducestress. So why do so many people find retiring stressful?
Because, like many of the stressful events above, retirement involves loss as well as gain, and major changes to your daily routine. You’re moving into uncharted waters. You may have gained more free time, but you’ve also lost security, familiarity, the camaraderie of your colleagues and the structure and motivation that’s dictated your day and week for decades. Changes in your finances and relationships might be worrying you too. You may also be surprisingly busy, volunteering, caring for loved ones or starting projects you didn’t have time for previously.
Mindfulness can relieve your stress
Past regrets and worries about the future can dominate your thoughts and blight your present, stopping you from enjoying the time you have now. Mindfulness helpyou separate yourself, even if just momentarily, from those concerns by focusing on the present.
"It's about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives," says Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.
By recognising negative thought patterns, you can begin to recognise what drives your behaviours and anxieties. This helps you prevent them overwhelming you or triggering a spiral of negative thoughts or actions that worsen the situation (one of the main principles of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
Mindfulness can help you appreciate the now and refocus
When we’re working and perhaps raising a family too, months and even years can seem to pass in a flash. We tend to react ‘off the cuff’ and rarely have the chance to really notice what’s going on around us—and inside us. We miss opportunities to appreciate the moment and consider what we really want.
Mindfulness allows you to mentally step back, examining and appreciating what’s going on rather than just reacting, from noticing the taste of your favourite sandwich or the sound of birdsong to recognising your hopes and ambitions. Time slows down.
How to practise mindfulness
The key to mindfulness is an Increased awareness of what’s going on inside and outside yourself in a particular moment; all the physical sensations and emotions you’re experiencing.
Watch and name your thoughts and feelings.Try to view them dispassionately. Consider what events sparked them, and how these emotions might change your behaviour.
Remember: mindfulness isn’t about abolishing negative thoughts. It’s about acknowledging them, then reducing their power over you. Professor Williams recommends thinking of them as “thought buses” that you can watch coming and going “without having to get on them and be taken away.”
Focus yourself in the now. This can help to prevent negative thoughts, regrets or worries form overwhelming you and helps youappreciate the day, hour and minute you’re in.
Try something new. Sit in a different seat, take a different route, have lunch somewhere new. This can help you notice the world in a new way.
Don’t be surprised if it’s not easy at first. Stick with it! It will get easier
The NHS recommends the Mental Health Foundation's online mindfulness course, found here at https://www.bemindfulonline.com/, or you can find a local teacher: https://bemindful.co.uk/learn-mindfulness/.