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Health and wellbeing

Mindfulness and relaxation

Mindfulness involves paying attention each moment to things as they are, with an open-hearted and non-judgmental attitude. It is the process of observing thoughts, emotions and sensations as they come and go, with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance.

Mindfulness can help us to be less caught up in stress, worry, low mood, by allowing us to develop a greater capacity to engage in our lives by being more fully present.

Practising mindfulness

Mindfulness can be developed over time with practice. The basic practice or ‘meditation’ involves intentionally placing your attention on the breath and observing each rise and fall. It is natural that your mind will wander but part of the practice is being aware of when this happens and being able to gently redirect your mind to the present and back to the breath.

You can use these guided exercises to help you start practising mindfulness meditation:

Relaxation exercises

Relaxation is a skill that can be learned to help manage stress and anxiety. With regular practice, relaxation exercises can produce a number of benefits, including improved concentration and memory, better academic performance, reduction in anxiety and worry and less reactivity to stressors.

Breathing exercises

How we breathe can have a direct effect on our stress or anxiety levels.

Our bodies naturally maintain a balance between carbon dioxide and oxygen but when we are stressed we often begin to breathe very quickly (hyperventilate) and take in more oxygen than we need. This triggers chemical changes that are harmless but can produce symptoms such as dizziness, light-headedness and confusion. These are then often misinterpreted as frightening or dangerous and so feed feelings of anxiety or even panic.

You can practise breathing exercises (mp3, 5.9MB) to help you slow down your breathing and so reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Progressive muscle relaxation

Stress can often lead to muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you how to recognise the difference between tension and relaxation in the body, helping you reduce the tension from your muscles. The general method is to tense and then relax all of the main muscle groups in your body.

The Centre for Clinical Interventions has a useful information sheet on progressive muscle relaxation (pdf, 68KB) which outlines the procedure for practising this exercise. A guided progressive muscle relaxation exercise (mp3, 17.4MB) is also available in MP3 format.

Other relaxation exercises available:

Other resources

  • Take10 – Headspace (UK): Simple and easy-to-learn meditation techniques for a happier, healthier and more balanced life. The free ‘Take10’ program offers an introduction to mindfulness practices and meditation either online or via the Headspace app.
  • Smiling mind is modern meditation, a unique web and app-based program developed by psychologists and educators to help bring balance to people's lives.

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Last updated: 22 May 2017

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