Sally Laws teaches mindfulness for the Adult Learning Service. She shares her tips for living a more ‘mindful’ life.
“I started my career as an Occupational Therapist working in Mental Health services in prisons.
The job was highly stressful and you would see upsetting and distressing things on a daily basis. It was just expected that staff would deal with it and not be affected. So many staff burned out.
I would have loved for someone to have said to me: ‘It’s alright if you find this difficult. It doesn’t mean that you are not good at your job, it just means you’re human. Here are the tools you need to deal with it.’ Because that never happened, I turned to mindfulness as a way of coping.
Mindfulness is about learning how to keep your attention in the hereand now or developing the skills to move your focus from distress to something neutral, when you need to. It is a great tool for raising self-awareness.
I was lucky enough to do some teacher training in mindfulness and it just snowballed from there.
When I saw a job with the council’s Adult Learning Service to research the impact community learning — art, relaxation, yoga, healthy eating — has on mental health, I made the switch from health to education. This led to a full-time role as a tutor teaching stress management, relaxation and mental health courses.
It gave me this opportunity to help prevent people getting to the point where their mental health is in crisis. After all, it’s far easier to make changes when you are in a good place. It’s much harder if you’ve already hit the deck.
I’ve delivered mindfulness training in job centres, prisons, mental health hospitals, carers’ centres, children’s centres and at older people’s groups. Two years ago, I linked up with the council’s Learning and Development Service to develop mindfulness and mental health courses for council staff.
I love doing it. It’s making people more able and willing to have conversations about how they feel. So far I’ve taught over 300 staff. The demand has been incredible and to keep up we’re running as many courses for as many people as my diary allows!
However this is only half of what I do. I also manage the wellbeing strand of the ‘Our Liverpool’ support programme for asylum seekers and refugees. I’m part of an amazing little team helping vulnerable people who are new to Liverpool, including victims of trafficking. Many of them have had horrendous experiences and come to the UK hoping all their problems will be solved. Then they face struggles with the language or experience hate crime, for example. What we try to do is signpost them to further services and educate them to manage their own wellbeing, reducing the stigma of poor mental health.
I remember when I first started teaching, there were some people who said it would never take off, no-one would want to do it. Now mental health is much higher up the agenda. And while that’s really encouraging, it needs to stay that way. It needs to be kept in the spotlight.
I have got a lot on my plate, so to support my own mental health and wellbeing, I practise mindfulness three times a week. I do a lot of cycling and I have a very good friend back in my home city of Newcastle who does a similar job — we offload to each other! And I can always go to my manager Amanda, we make a great team.
The biggest thing for me is just practising being compassionate to myself. I avoid focusing on the negative and accept that I can’t always be perfect. Just doing my best is good enough.
Sally’s mindfulness tips
If you find making time for mindfulness an issue, why not be mindful of a daily activity you already do? Giving your full attention to the movement and sensations of the body or the environment around you whilst having a shower, brushing your hair or taking the dog for a walk.
Using an app can be a useful way to set reminders to practise or explore different mindfulness scripts. I use ‘Insight Timer’.
Establish a set time to practice mindfulness as part of your weekly routine.
Try ending your day by identifying one thing you are grateful for and one thing you have achieved. Many of us focus on the things we didn’t manage to tick off our to-do list, not the numerous things we have! Replacing these critical thoughts with a kinder alternative can be a real game changer.