Mindfulness is all about slowing down and paying attention to the present moment. When we’re ‘mindful’ we start to take steps to reconnect with ourselves. If we’re relaxed then we can be more mindful, so they’re both linked.

Being more mindful can help our mental health and wellbeing, as we can enjoy the world around us, as well as understand ourselves and how we’re feeling.

What is mindfulness?

It’s about noticing what’s happening in the present, without judging. You may notice and be aware of your mind, body or environment. The technique has its roots in 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-conscious

  • feel more reassured with less stress

  • feel more able to choose how to respond to your thoughts and feelings

  • cope with thoughts that are difficult or not useful

  • to be kinder towards yourself

Many people find that mindfulness helps them to manage their day to day wellbeing, but it doesn’t always work for everyone.

How does mindfulness work?

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

The way we think, and what we think about it, can affect the way we feel and behave. For example, if you think or care a lot about past or future difficult events, you may often feel sad or anxious.

It’s understandable that you want to stop thinking about difficult things, but trying to get rid of difficult thoughts can often make us think about them even more.

Thinking with a clear focus can be hard and takes practise but you’ll start to:

  • notice how thoughts come and go in your mind and you might learn that they don't have to define who you are, or your experience of the world, and that you can let them go

  • notice what your body tells you such as any tension or anxiety you may be feeling in your body, such as a quick heartbeat, tight muscles or shallow breathing

  • create a place between you and your thoughts where you can reflect on the situation and respond more cautiously

Is mindfulness right for me?

While anyone can try it, being thoughtful isn't always easy to do.

Practise may be needed and it may not be right for everyone. There’s a lot of information out there about thinking, which can feel overwhelming or confusing. If mindfulness doesn’t work for you, don’t worry as there are lots of other ways you can support your mental health.

Thinking exercises you can try

Eat thoughtfully

This is about paying attention to the taste, appearance and texture of what you eat. Try this when drinking a cup of tea or coffee, for example. You could focus on the temperature, how the liquid feels on your tongue, how sweet it is or you could watch the steam it releases.

Moving, walking or running thoughtfully

When exercising, try to focus on the feeling of your body moving. If you are going for a thoughtful walk, you may notice the breeze against your skin, the feeling of your feet or hands against different textures on the land or surrounding surfaces, and the different smells around you.

Scanning the body

This is when you slowly shift your attention through different parts of your body. Start from your head and move all the way down to the end of your toes. You could focus on feelings of warmth, tension, small pins or relaxing in different parts of your body.

Thoughtful colouring and illustration

Instead of trying to draw something specifically, focus on the colours and feeling of your pencil against the paper, you could use a mindfulness colouring book.

Thoughtful meditation

This is about sitting quietly to focus on your breathing, thoughts, feelings in your body or things you can sense around you. Try to bring your attention back to the present if your mind starts to wander. Many people also find that yoga helps them focus on breathing and focusing on the present.

So many activities can be done thoughtfully. Different things work for different people, so if one exercise isn't useful to you, try another. You can also try to adapt them for you and make them easier to include in your daily life, such as cooking food or thoughtfully folding clothes and some people find that practising mindfulness in nature can be more rewarding.

How could relaxation help me?

Exploring relaxation can help you look after yourself when you're feeling stressed or worried. Relaxation might not make what you are stressed or worried about go away. But it can give you a mental break from these feelings and help you refocus.

There are lots of relaxation exercises out there. Many can be done in a short time with no equipment. Have a look at the tips and ideas below to see how relaxation can fit into your daily life.

Don't worry if some ideas don't work for you. Just try the ones that do.

How to Relax

Take a break

Relaxation doesn't have to take up lots of your time. Just stepping away from something stressful for a few minutes or taking time away from your normal routines and thoughts can give you enough space and distance to feel calmer.

  • read a book or a magazine, even if it's only for a few minutes

  • run yourself a bath, watch a film, play with a pet or try out a new recipe

Try active relaxation

Relaxation doesn't have to mean sitting still. Gentle exercise can help you relax too.

  • take a walk, going at your own pace or you might choose to go for a longer walk, but even a few minutes of walking can help you feel relaxed

  • look for a class you'd like to try, such as yoga, Pilates or gentle stretching

  • try some seated exercises, which you may be able to fit into your day more easily if you are busy.

The NHS has a selection of sitting exercises you could try.

Focus on your breathing

Learning to breathe more deeply can help you feel a lot calmer. It takes just a few minutes and can be done anywhere.

  • breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth

  • try to keep your shoulders down and relaxed

  • place your hand on your stomach – it should rise as you breathe in and fall as you breathe out

  • count as you breathe by counting 'one, two, three, four' as you breathe in and 'one, two, three, four' as you breathe out

  • try to work out what's comfortable for you

Get creative

Getting in touch with your artistic side can help you feel more calm and relaxed.

  • try painting, drawing, making crafts, playing a musical instrument, dancing, baking or sewing.

  • try not to worry too much about the finished product - just focus on enjoying yourself.

Spend time in nature

Spending time outside and in green spaces can be great for your physical and mental health.

  • take a walk in a green space if you can, taking time to notice any trees, flowers, plants and animals you see on the way.

  • spend some time taking part in conservation, whether that's digging in your own garden or taking part in a local green project.

Picture yourself somewhere serene

Even if you can't physically get away, your imagination can transport you to somewhere you feel calm.

  • think of somewhere relaxing and peaceful – it could be a memory of somewhere you've been, or a place you have imagined

  • close your eyes, and think about the details of this place - let your mind drift and your body relax.

Listen to music

Music can relax you, connect you to your emotions and distract you from worrying thoughts.

  • listen to your favourite songs - dance or sing along, or just close your eyes and enjoy

  • really listen to the music - focus on the music, and let other thoughts fade away

Do a tech check

Technology can be great for helping you feel connected, but if you're using it a lot then it can contribute to making you feel busy and stressed. Taking a break can help you relax, even if it’s only for a short time.

  • try turning your phone off for an hour, if you can

  • step away from the TV, or have an evening where you don't check emails or social networks

  • use the tech free time to do something relaxing

Relaxation exercises

We have created a selection of exercises that can help you to relax and that be downloaded here. Remember, everyone is different, and you need to find an exercise or technique that’s right for you.