Henlow man on the power of meditation this World Mental Health Day

Paul Harris from Henlow spoke to the Comet about meditation for World Mental Health Day. Picture: Courtesy of Paul Harris

Paul Harris from Henlow spoke to the Comet about meditation for World Mental Health Day. Picture: Courtesy of Paul Harris - Credit: Archant

For World Mental Health Day on Saturday, October 10, the mental health charity Mind is encouraging people to ‘do one thing’ for better mental health.

More of us are experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety, and this is having a negative effect on our mental health.

Having lived with anxiety and depression for five years, I would suggest the best place to start is with yourself.

I want to encourage you to consider meditation, as it can be brilliant in helping to manage stress and anxiety.

To some, meditation involves sitting crossed legged on the floor humming; but I’m here to tell you that there’s a lot more to it than that.

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The best thing about meditation is that you don’t need any expensive kit, and you can literally take it with you, and practise it anywhere, at any time.

I’ve spent lots of time learning different ways of managing anxiety, and while everyone can tell you what helps, they don’t always go into the full details of how they actually work, and this has always been key for me.

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We know meditation helps with relaxation, but why? How exactly does it help our mental health?

The answer lies in our brain, in particular ‘brain waves’.

Our brain has a number of ‘states’, or levels of working. When our brain works at a high level for a long, constant period of time it becomes exhausted; this affects our ability to do many things, such as thinking clearly and making rational decisions; it also lowers our mood.

The brain needs time to slow down and to heal. Most of us wouldn’t go running at a fast pace for a long period of time; our body would get tired, our muscles would hurt and we may even cause an injury; so why do this to our brain?

Our every day state of thinking, analysing, assessing and categorising is called Beta. This is our default state, hard-wired since prehistoric times; our brain wants to be in this thinking state, and this is why some people find it difficult to relax properly.

Being in a constant Beta state can be exhausting at the best of times, but add in extra stress, and problems such as anxiety and depression start to occur.

It‘s really important to slow the brain down and to relax properly (unfortunately this does not include sitting in front of the TV with a glass of wine), and this is where meditation comes in.

By meditating, we are helping to move the brain into the next state, or level, which is called Alpha.

Alpha is where we start to slow down and move away from thinking; we become calmer and anchored. It’s the bridge between our conscious and subconscious mind.

Like any new skill, meditation takes time to learn. We are training our brain to move away from it’s default state, so that moving into Alpha becomes effortless, and we are able to stay in this relaxed state for longer.

When this happens, we can even reach a deeper state, which is called Theta. This is where we move to a level of awareness with stronger intuition and a greater capacity for complicated problem solving. In Theta, the body also starts to heal itself, and our immune system is boosted.

We are usually in this state during sleep, but with lots of practice, it’s possible to get into this state when awake.

For now, let’s keep it simple, and stick with getting from Beta to Alpha, even if it’s for a short period of time (little and often can be just a beneficial).

Mindfulness is a simple form of meditation that anyone can practise.

It can include walking in nature, listening to music, painting, reading, yoga or pilates; basically anything that you enjoy doing that focuses your attention on the present moment, the task you are doing.

Try and avoid including stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol or sugar because these will cause an imbalance in you brain and won’t have the effect we are after.

You may find your mind still wanders, the trick is to notice when this happens, when it does (because it will) just bring your attention back to what you are doing.

This act in itself is meditation. The more you practice, the more you become aware of when your mind wanders, and the easier it will be to bring your focus back to the present.

Have a go, ‘do one thing’ for better mental health.

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