Learn the difference between pressure and stress
I always thought mindfulness sounded like hippie nonsense. I couldn’t see how it distinguished itself from all the other self-help stuff that people endlessly Gwyneth on about. If it really was any good, I argued, everyone would be doing it by now.
And then some sage acquaintance pointed out that I was being daft because that way, I would never learn anything new.
So, mindful of my mindfulness aversion, I sought the insight of clinical psychologist Dr. Cinzia Pezzolesi, a qualified therapist who advises businesses on how to get the best out of their employees – not by cracking the whip, but by creating a happier, healthier environment.
“Mindfulness is being aware of what is happening inside you and around you – it is a tool to become less bothered by mental chatter,” Dr. Pezzolesi told my Healthy Beast podcast.
“Mindfulness is knowing what we are doing when we are doing it. We spend a lot of time thinking about the future and going over the past. Mindfulness is about being in the here and now and knowing what your body and mind are up to.”
According to Dr Pezzolesi, mindfulness isn’t about making your decisions slower, just more deliberate: “People think of mindfulness as slowing down. It is not about pace, it’s more about being in touch, relating to what you’re doing and what you are feeling. A Formula 1 driver is acting very mindfully, 100 percent focused on what he is doing, and racing drivers are not slow.”
Dr. Pezzolesi corrects me: the difficult moments in daily life are “pressures”, not stress, apparently. “Pressure can be whatever your life throws at you. Stress is how you respond to that pressure. We usually feel stress when we think we don’t have sufficient resources to deal with the pressures that we have around us. We can also have internal pressure: I want to do well, I am a perfectionist. But whether I feel stressed is up to me. It is down to my ability to deal with that external pressure.”
Which all sounds great – until the inevitable pressures of daily life pile on top of each other and you succumb to the stress of multitasking. Again, Dr. Pezzolesi correct me. There is no such thing as multi-tasking, only doing individual things badly: “Separate cognitive tasks can’t be done simultaneously. We switch from one to the other. Multi-tasking is a big problem because it takes time to go back to what you were doing before.
Is that why we are so easily distracted? “If you are in the middle of something and a message pops up, the brain releases a little bit of dopamine,” she explains.
“That’s how we procrastinate, these little drops of dopamine here and there that take us away from the tasks that we’re doing. You need to step back and say, ‘Okay, I am having this reaction.’ But observing the reaction doesn’t mean you have to live it. You can decide how you react. You can decide not to open your emails, you can decide to put your phone away for a set period of time.”
“The majority of people don’t want to stop [procrastinating]. It’s the hardest thing. We are in ‘doing mode’ all day, we are just focused on tasks. I think it is because we are a bit scared to look inside, emotions are things that we try not to experience.”
That might be the reason mindfulness is not more widely practised. To do it properly you have to stop listening to all the background noise that life throws up and ask yourself how you really feel. And for most people, this might not be something they want to do. Why ask yourself difficult questions when you can just keep on scrolling through Instagram?
Since meeting Dr Pezzolesi I have been approaching life more mindfully, which is not a phrase I even imagined myself saying. Mostly this means observing my emotions without reacting to them. An emotional response lasts less than a minute in the brain, so if you can wait that long without letting yourself down, chances are you are in the clear.
Mindfulness doesn’t suddenly make everything perfect – of course, it doesn’t. But it has made a genuine, tangible improvement to my life. Not bad for a 45-minutes chat about hippie nonsense.
Mindful movement: walking your way to a better state of mind
It’s no great revelation that a stroll beside a gently gurgling river or through a light-dappledforest is a great way to clear your head and to feel at peace with the world. But a new study has shown that remaining mindful while walking and moving throughout the day increases the positive effect on your mental wellbeing.
Mindfulness, which means retaining an awareness of your breathing, physical sensations and surroundings, has become a prominent method of boosting psychological health in recent years but many people think of it as a solitary activity practiced in a quiet location. The new research shows that to be a myth.
The research, carried out by Chih-Hsiang Yang at Penn State university in the US, tracked participants’ mental states as they went about their days. It found that they reported lower levels of stress when they were up and moving around, and this fell further when the exercise was combined with being mindful.
“When people were both more mindful and more active than usual, they seem to have [a] extra decrease in negative affect,” Yang said. “Being more active in a given moment is already going to reduce negative affect, but by also being more mindful than usual at the same time, you can see this amplified affect.”
Clinical psychologist Dr Cinzia Pezzolesi, clinical director of The Mindfulness Project, says that integrating the mind and body can be a powerful approach to improving one’s state of mind: “Whenever we are able to connect with physical sensations in the body we activate the part of the nervous system that counteracts the fight or flight response; so it calms us down,” she says. “Some people calm down just connecting with the breath but for some others that’s hard to do when a strong emotion is present. There’s a neurological element because walking can release the adrenaline and cortisone – the hormones that maintain our stress response. And for some people it’s simply much easier to connect with a physical sensation than with other mindful practices where you connect with your breath or emotional state.”
One good thing about mindful movement is how easy it is to make it part of your daily life, she says.
“You can always find time to mindful walk, so it can easily be integrated into your routine – when we commute, or even when we’re in our offices and we walk from one room to another.”
Just going for a stroll at lunchtime might not be enough, she adds. It’s best to approach it the right way.
“Sometimes people naturally go for a walk when they’re stressed, but what happens is they take their thoughts for a walk. What we want to do when we go for a mindful walk is to focus on the walking, on the physical sensations that you feel when you place your feet on the floor. So you anchor your attention on the lower part of your body and the first thing you notice is your stance and your shift of balance. Then you place your foot on the ground and you feel the sensation of the sole of your foot on the floor. The mind will wander because that naturally happens every 14-16 seconds, but you notice where it goes and you bring it back to your feet. And you disengage with what you don’t need – which could be your thoughts. Whenever we focus on one thing only we give our minds a bit of a break.”
We need to switch off from worrying about the past or the future and live in the here and now, she says.
“People come to mindfulness for different reasons – perhaps they are overthinking things or they are simply not present. The issue with that is that you miss out on your life – maybe you have an important call and then you go home and you want to be with your friends or kids and your mind is still stuck. That limits our ability to enjoy the present. Mindfulness allows you to enjoy the present rather than being stuck in the past or the future.”
Mindful walks are becoming a popular method of experiencing the technique. A number of mindfulness practices organise guided walks, often in the countryside or city parks.
Debbie Johnson, a teacher with Being Mindful, points out that you can experience mindful movement just as well in an urban setting as a rural one. “The myth is that in order to practise mindfulness you need to be in a beautiful setting and a lot of media have people dressed in white looking out at the sea,” she says. “Obviously that’s more peaceful than being on Oxford Street with lots of traffic but mindfulness is being aware of whatever state your mind is in. So you don’t need to be all woo-woo and zen. It’s just about being aware of what’s happening.”
Publication of My Latest Mindful Eating Book
I am thrilled to announce that I have just published my new book ‘The Art of Mindful Eating’!
What is the book about?
The Art of Mindful Eating is about questioning the solutions we have applied to dieting so far that have become problematic in their own right, and about developing the art of mindful eating. The intent of this book is to help you find out what works for you and how you can make small lifestyle changes that will help you develop a joyful and relaxed relationship with food, without the struggle.
The Art of Mindful Eating will guide you to:
Explore your eating patterns with compassion and curiosity
Eat with all your senses
Reconnect with your physical hunger and satiety cues
Make mindful choices around food
Eat and live with awareness
Where do I get it?
The Art of Mindful Eating is available on Amazon in the following link
A BBC News interview about Anxiety. Using the Dan Harris, ABC news presenter, case-study as an example.
Marie Claire article
Emotional At Work? How To Use Your Feelings To Get Ahead
We’ve all been there. Head between your knees, tears trickle down your cheeks and form a mascara-tinted puddle on the bathroom floor. Yep, whether you’ve just started a new job, taken on a more senior role or just had One Of Those Days, sometimes it seems impossible to keep your feelings in check. But instead of panicking about whether or not your face is blotchy, your nose is bright red or if there’s snot in your eyebrow, fear not: being emotional at work can actually be a good thing.
BBC Mindfulness Documentary
This is an 8 minute documentary footage presented in a BBC programme on 23-Jun-2015.
Chrissy B Show Mindfulness Interview
This is a TV interview on the Chrissy B show about managing anxiety using mindfulness. Released Dec-2016.
Christmas 2016 Sky-NEWS Feature Home
This is a brief feature about Mindfulness done with Sky-News during Christmas time 2016
‘New Professional Mindful Eating Training iEAT in Italy- October 2017’
‘iEAT – Training Professionale di mindful eating in Italia – Ottobre 2017’