What is Mindfulness anyway?

When the last round of fuel strikes was on, I found myself sitting in a long queue of cars waiting my turn at the pump. It was hot and noisy; I was late for a meeting and not even sure if there would be any fuel left when it was my turn! My brain was ‘whirring’, with the same thoughts going round and round in my head, I’m late and I’m not going to get any fuel now, how will I get home and what about my meeting? Why didn’t I come out earlier? Why didn’t I fill up last time? Round and round.

Then I managed to stop myself and take stock. I realised I was stressed and anxious, my stomach was knotted, and my shoulders hunched forward. None of these things would help with my predicament. I relaxed my shoulders, took a deep breath, and looked up at the trees and sky I could see from the fuel station. This, for me, is basic mindfulness; simply noticing what is going on in my brain, body and surroundings.

It can be easy in our busy, modern existence to spend a lot of time on ‘auto-pilot’, rushing from one chore to another, from home to work, picking up the kids, etc. etc. Any gaps we do have are very often filled with social media or other technological demands. The idea behind mindfulness is to practice simply noticing what is going on in that moment, not re-living an argument we had yesterday or worrying about an event we have tomorrow.

Like any skill though, it needs practice, repetition and strategy, to learn to avoid becoming trapped in our inner dialogue. By doing this we can take some control over our stresses and anxiety. But how do we start to do this? ‘Noticing’ is key here, learning to observe ourselves, almost from the outside looking back in at ourselves. As soon as we start to practice this ‘noticing’, we are on the right path.

We can make a special effort to notice the taste of our food, or even have a specific time of day where we will practice being mindful, perhaps by going for a walk or just sitting without any other distractions. As thoughts tumble into you mind, you can start to practice noticing them, but letting them go and not dwelling on them.

Trying something new can help cultivate mindfulness, as can being in nature. I try and use a codeword to help me notice I am back on autopilot, like ‘stop!’ or ‘relax’. It can also be handy to name our thoughts, ‘I am feeling anxious’, or ‘on-edge’. I sometimes hold the part of my body that is being affected, like my stomach or shoulders.

The first step is to try to notice, notice, notice. This ‘wake-up call’ can snap you out of yourself, help you look afresh at what is happening for you, and get you back to the present moment.

P.S. I did get my fuel and made it to the meeting on time; so all that ‘whirring’ and stressing was for nothing!

There is a lot of information online about mindfulness, and some websites and articles etc. are included in the Resources Pages of my website. Below are some links to videos that further explain mindfulness:

What is Mindfulness?  

What is mindfulness? Simple answers, profound meaning.

Mindfulness Animated in 3 minutes 

What to Expect in your First Session

It can bring up many strong emotions setting up and attending your first counselling session, and it may have taken a long time to pluck up the courage to start. What will I say? What happens if I get upset? What if I can’t think straight? There can be so many doubts and fears, it can actually put you off even coming!  

However, doing a bit of preparation in advance can help calm your nerves around your first session. Some people like to make notes in readiness, to help them remember what they wanted to talk about. Indeed, keeping a journal as part of your overall counselling journey can be a good idea. 

Perhaps one of the first things to note is ‘why now’; what has happened to prompt you to start counselling. This may be connected to more general issues in your life that you want to talk about. So really thinking about why you want to come can be helpful. Talking about this with trusted friends or family may also help you be clear about this. Some of these people may have also had some counselling and will be able to tell you what helped them.

It is also a good idea to think about what you would like to get out of counselling, so you can set goals. They might be something like, ‘be more confident to talk to people’ for example, or something more complicated. It is ok if you can’t think of any clear goals, as this is something we can work out together. Thinking about what you might want to get out of counselling can also help later, by checking whether you feel like you are moving forward in the process. Another good idea during this preparation time, is to jot down any questions you would like to ask during the first session. It is of course completely fine if you feel that you would prefer to hold your ideas in your head and not write them down.

On the day of your first meeting, if possible, make sure you have had something to eat and are wearing comfortable clothes, to help you relax in the session. Also, if you can, try to leave plenty of time before your session so you are not rushed, as this will help when you do make the shift into counselling. Likewise leaving time afterwards can help you process what has been talked about. 

There are normally quite a few things that need to happen during the first session that ‘lead us in’ or ‘break the ice’, and it is my job to make you comfortable and take us through these. Firstly we will go through the main points of the contract to check that you understand and agree with it. There is also the chance here to ask any questions about the contract. This process can sometimes take the first twenty minutes of the session. We will then need to go over the Client Information Form to discuss any needs that may become apparent.

After this we will go through what has brought you to counselling and your hopes for the future. It is important that you feel free to ask any questions regarding anything we have talked about, this is your time to use for yourself! 

It is good to try and be as open and honest as possible during the first and following sessions. One of the great strengths of counselling is that it provides a place where you can be completely truthful. Equally, it is also important to be realistic about what can be achieved in the first session, if you expect to walk out with all your concerns sorted, then you may be disappointed!

Lastly, it is very important that you trust your gut instincts with regard to myself (or any Counseller). If you feel that we are not the right fit, then it is good to notice that. It might take a couple of sessions to decide, but if you do not get a positive feeling about the relationship, then it is ok to say so. 

These are links to YouTube clips to help with your first counselling session: 

 What to expect in your first therapy session. 

How to prepare for therapy – 5 tips to get the most from your sessions.