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May 11 2014
A mental health nurse offers a free way of reducing stress and anxiety

Within my role as an inner-city mental health nurse, I work with clients who not only have mental health problems but who also have additional stresses including homelessness, drug and alcohol addictions, and anxiety disorders. Not to mention the stresses of everyday life!

Unfortunately, no one is capable of getting rid of all these factors in one go, and even thinking about everything all at once is too overwhelming for most. Although we can’t magic the problems away, we can look to reduce the impact that these issues may have on a person's ‘here and now’. Well, that’s what the practice of mindfulness certainly suggests.

The Mental Health Foundation defines mindfulness as: “a mind-body based approach that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences.” Through techniques such as meditation, yoga and breathing, mindfulness teaches us to find ways to pay attention to the present moment. When we fell overwhelmed, it helps us to become more aware of what these thoughts actually are so we can manage them.

Following The National Institute of Clinical Excellence’s (NICE) Be Mindful report, mindfulness is increasingly part of mental health care. Almost three-quarters of GPs think mindfulness meditation would be helpful for people with mental health problems, and a third already refer patients to Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) on a regular basis.

Research suggests that people who are more mindful are less likely to experience problems such as anxiety and depression and better life satisfaction.

More than 100 studies have shown changes in brainwave activity during meditation and researchers have found that areas of the brain linked to emotional regulation are larger in people who have meditated regularly for five years.

Developed by monks and with a history greater than 2,500 years, mindfulness was developed from the Buddhist practice of meditation to relieve suffering. It has been practiced for centuries and seen to have great benefits on the way a person thinks and views the world. And it’s even got its roots in the homeless experience – Buddha himself was homeless.

Linda Grabbe of the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University in Georgia examined whether mindfulness meditation could help address common issues amongst homeless people such as mental health and suicide. She hoped it could be delivered as a therapy to help young people in homeless shelters. It appeared to effectively decrease symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. Grabbe has even said that this therapy could even have an impact on the likelihood of drug abuse.

In New York in 2009, Adam Bucko and Taz Tagore set up the Reciprocity Foundation, which recognised how homeless people are not just impoverished in the material sense but are also spiritually damaged as result of factors such as neglect, abuse and isolation. The Foundation has helped well over 1,000 homeless youths to find their inner purpose and voice through interventions such as mindfulness and yoga.

In the UK, mindfulness is becoming more and more recognisable as a helpful tool to eliminate stress and mental health problems for homeless people, and many homeless projects across the UK are integrating mindfulness into their weekly programmes. Homeless Link, in their i2 Homeless Dual Diagnosis Service, currently offers services to people with substance misuse and mental health problems, and one of the interventions that they offer is mindfulness.

Not everyone has access to these services in the UK but the good news is that mindfulness is something that you can pick up and practice on your own. There are many self-help guides and links on the Internet, which teach you how to practice mindfulness.

Practice basic technique

This five-step rule called Every-Minute Meditation developed by Rev Daizui MacPhillamy teaches you how to bring the mind of meditation into every day living. He summarises the process in these five steps:

1. Do one thing at a time.
2. Pay attention to what you are doing.
3. When your mind wanders to something else, bring it back.
4. Repeat step number three a few hundred thousand times.
5. But if your mind keeps wandering to the same thing over and over, stop for a minute; maybe it is trying to tell you something important.

Find out more about mindfulness techniques

Mental Health Foundation 'Be Mindful' course:

Three-Minute Breathing Space: