Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald: What's so great about mindfulness?

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Mindfulness stems from Buddhist traditions. Image / NZ Herald
Mindfulness stems from Buddhist traditions. Image / NZ Herald

I've been told I should meditate for my anxiety, but it's too hard. Any tips?Anxious, Napier

Mindfulness is very trendy at the moment, and it's not often you can say that about a psychological treatment. But it isn't all incense, throw cushions and sitting cross-legged with your eyes shut.

So what is mindfulness and why is it so popular?

Mindfulness comes from Buddhist traditions and is a series of meditation techniques that help with mental focus, concentration and emotions by way of improving our ability to more actively control our attention.

It has been integrated into many different treatments since the mid 90s for chronic pain, depression and, perhaps most famously, borderline personality disorder via DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy).

With practice we can all improve our ability to not let our mind "run away" with emotions, painful thoughts or difficult memories.

It's particularly effective for anxiety and protecting against relapse in depression.

A number of different brain imaging studies have shown that regular daily practice of mindfulness meditation, for as little as eight weeks, can decrease the density of connections and shrink the part of the brain responsible for our "fight or flight" response, also known as the amygdala. Random fact: The amygdala looks like two little almonds, and is the ancient Greek word for almond.

Of course, just like getting fit, if you haven't exercised for a while it can be painful to start. Most people think you need to dive right into trying to meditate. But if you've never done anything like this before, just like starting at the gym, start slow.

Everyday mindfulness, or "informal mindfulness" is using simple mundane tasks as an opportunity to practice being present in the moment, for just a few minutes at a time.

5 tips to get you started:

Try to just observe the water flowing over you in the shower. Stay with the experience of the sensations and the temperature, and avoid wandering to thoughts such as planning your day.

Take 10 minutes in your lunch or tea break to sit outside, leave your cell phone on your desk, and just observe your surroundings. Anywhere will do - a park or a bench on a busy street. Just notice the world go by.

If you catch the train or bus to work, take the headphones off, put the phone away and just observe the world outside the window.

Drive home from work with the radio off and the windows down. Stay present to the wind in your face, and the noises outside the car.

Mow the lawns, vacuum or do the dishes with all your attention, no music or distraction. Just focus on the movement of your body and give all your attention to the task.

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Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- nzherald.co.nz

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Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald is in private practice at the Robert Street Clinic in Auckland. For more: psychotherapy.org.nz or his Social Anxiety resource site: overcomingsocialanxiety.com.

Read more by Kyle MacDonald

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