In 2018 it was revealed that one in eight school-age children in the UK had an identified mental disorder. The study, conducted the previous year, was the first to shed light on the subject in 14 years. More recently, the BBC reported that child mental health unit referrals from UK primary school children aged 11 and under are ‘up nearly 50%’ in three years.
If we look at the wider UK population, the figures are even higher. According to the mental health charity Mind, approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. It’s fair to say that the UK is in the midst of a mental health crisis.
The government says it is “determined to improve mental health support”. In February this year it announced that from September 2020, pupils of all ages in the UK will be taught how to look after their mental wellbeing. There will be a focus on the link between physical and mental health.
Today the pressure to achieve, academically and financially, and to be accepted socially, never goes away. It puts a significant burden on society as a whole, and on each of us individually. We are constantly looking for the next goal to achieve, the next item to tick off our ‘to do’ list. And we’re tethered to our mobile devices. We are never truly in the present.
So how can we pause and retreat from the instability around us? Can we temporarily loosen the shackles of this pressure to perform? Can we find an inner calm? Are we able to create a cocoon away from the frenetic social hurricane whirling around us?
Practicing mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally. It is about being present in the ‘here and now’ without any interpretation or distraction. The practice has been around for millennia and was made popular in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. In Taiwan it is called jing-shin, which beautifully translates to ‘quiet-mind’.
Mindfulness is a simple yet effective approach to help us deal with stress, anxiety and other related issues. It is also a learned skill which requires practice. It is a state of just being that can be practised anywhere. And yes, that includes just before that high-pressure exam.
Find yourself a quiet space to sit or stand, somewhere where you can relax and be still. Then focus on an object which you can give your full attention. If you prefer, you can focus on your breathing and your senses.
The energy of mindfulness brings with it the focused energy of concentration. When you are aware of something such as a song, a flower or even a pebble, and can maintain that full awareness, without any internal thoughts, you are fully concentrated.
When your mindfulness practice becomes second nature, your concentration will strengthen. Then, when you become fully concentrated, you will have found a stillness which enables you to find peace and clarity.
Mindfulness can really help you and your family to achieve the calmness and clarity you need – the elusive eye of the storm. For more information on how the practice can help improve your mental health, including exercises and tips, visit the Mind website: https://www.mind.org.uk/