It is a well-established fact that there is a co-dependency between mental and physical health. And this fact, sadly to say, becomes more evident in times of economic uncertainty and political instability.
And one of the ways to see this are in the increased costs and claims in Healthcare, generally with regard to stress, anxiety and depression.
Mental health issues have reached epidemic proportions in South Africa. Recent studies show that more than 17 million people in South Africa are dealing with anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and about 4.5 million of them with depression.
This costs South Africa more than R232billion or 5.7% of GDP due to lost productivity either due to absence from work or attending work while unwell.
Adding to this, statistics from a global study, revealed that mental disorders have increased by 23%. And in South Africa around 30% of people report life-long psychiatric disorders, while 1 in 3 will be affected by a mental illness in their lifetime.
So, the chances are quite real that the person sitting next to you in the office or restaurant is at some stage in their lives of coping with some sort of mental illness.
Although mental health disorders and depression (except in severe, chronic, and debilitating cases) is not a disability, it can cause impairment at work and have a big impact on daily life, from sleeping to work, concentrating, regulating emotions, or caring for oneself and others.
Not mentioning the problems with memory, procrastination, chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, fear, aggression, panic and the many problems regarding addiction (because of self-medication).
The good news is that most of these disorders can be successfully treated. And a key component to this successful treatment is an integrated mental health care model.
It requires co-ordinated care between GPs, specialists and allied health professionals as well as social support structures. But this is not enough, without a disciplined meditation practice, most of the above will not bear positive long-term results.
So, by adding a mindfulness meditation practise to an already integrating health care model, can really benefit the individual.
The consistent practice of mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease the subjective experience of pain and stress in a variety of research settings.
Formal (sitting meditation) and informal (mindfulness) daily practice fosters development of a deep inner calmness and nonreactivity of the mind, allowing individuals to face, and even embrace, all aspects of daily life, regardless of circumstances.
By emphasizing being, not doing, mindfulness meditation provides a way through stress and suffering. This practice allows individuals to become compassionate observers to their own experiences, to avoid making rash decisions, and to be open to new possibilities, transformation, and healing.
With mindfulness meditation, a sick individual can literally train their mind to promote their own healing. Benefits also includes; mental healing, better awareness, calmness, focus and resilience.
Mindfulness is not a magical cure-all.
It won’t necessarily replace the medicines patience are taking. It won’t get rid of all chronic symptoms. But it will help people cope better and be able to live calmly. And as they start to train their mind, they will also find more focus and peace in every moment.
The daily practice of Mindfulness can help people to notice the little things around them that make life meaningful. Be able to take charge of their own healing process. Be more patient and compassionate with themselves and kinder with others. And feel less like a victim and more like a survivor.
Mindfulness helps people to live life with more of a purpose and see new opportunities despite maybe, a chronic mental illness. In short, it can help people to find calm and happiness even in the face of suffering.
Increasingly modern psychology has adopted many of the mindfulness skills and techniques and have scientifically proven their benefits.
There’s a lot to learn. And also to unlearn.
To end of, I would like to introduce the simple practice of Mindfulness meditation.
Sit down, pay attention to your breath, and when your attention wanders, return. As simple as that. Let me give you few simple steps:
At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually you can build up to twice as long. You can use your phone for a timer. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. If you feel your life is too busy and you have little time, doing some daily is better than doing none.
Step 1: Find a good spot in your home or office, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter and you can find some quiet. You can even sit outside if you like, but choose a place with little distraction. Whatever you’re sitting on—a chair, a meditation cushion, a park bench—find a spot that gives you a solid seat, not perching or hanging back. If on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor. Straighten, but don’t stiffen your upper body. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your back.
Step 2: Let your hands rest on your legs. Pull back your chin and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids lower. If you feel the need, you may close them completely, but it’s not necessary to close your eyes when meditating. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
Step 3: Relax. Bring your attention to your breath. Feel your breath—or some say “follow” it—as it goes in and as it goes out. (You can even count your outbreath up to 10, and for the inbreath you can simply leave a spacious pause.) Either way, draw your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest. Unavoidably, your attention will wander. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block, judge or eliminate thinking. When you get around to noticing your mind wandering—in a few seconds, a minute, five minutes—just gently return your attention to the counting of your outbreath. You may find your mind wandering constantly—that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with or engaging with those thoughts as much, practice observing without needing to react. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is.
Step 4: When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Pausing for a moment, decide how you’d like to continue with your day. Smile.
That’s it. That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it.