Body Scan – Sharing the benefits of mindfulness Winner’s Story

We’re catching up with Catherine Hood, one of our Illustration & Animation winners from 2016. Her project; Body Scan – A mindfulness exercise, was an illustrated guide introducing mindfulness into everyday life, and was inspired by her own personal experiences which she has kindly shared below.

Catherine has since graduated from Arts University Bournemouth, and we’re hoping to continue supporting her in pushing this project further. Meanwhile, you can support Catherine by buying her beautifully illustrated guide here.

Human minds are easily distracted. Often we are either worrying about the past or anticipating the future. Mindfulness is about concentrating on the now.

I was introduced to mindfulness by a University counsellor, at the start of the second year of my degree.

I had struggled a lot with anxiety up until this point, to the extent where I’d become very depressed. My everyday worries – normal, routine concerns – had been blown out of proportion in my head, and I was slipping very quickly into a state of fear and despair. I couldn’t calm myself and I became hugely paranoid over my health. I lost the ability to rationalise my thoughts, which were running wild in my head. I barely ate during the day, and I spent most nights wide-awake and panicked.

My doctor suggested I see a counsellor, and it was during my first appointment that she recommended I try mindfulness as a way of dealing with my anxiety. I could use mindfulness to ground myself, to place myself in the present. This way I could learn to think my thoughts through rationally, rather than leave them to grow out of control again. Ideally, this would lead to a calmer state of mind.

An example of a mindfulness exercise is to simply take a moment to focus on being in the present. I was instructed to lie on the bed each night before sleeping and to feel my body against the mattress. I would pay attention to the feelings and sensations in my body in that exact moment, starting from my toes all the way up to the top of my head.

The idea is that in any moments I find stressful or anxious, I would go back to my mindfulness training and find myself in the present. That way, I would stop panicking about what could happen – or worrying about what has happened – and bring myself back into that present moment. This would ideally keep myself thinking rationally and calmly.

Mindfulness is not a ‘quick fix’ solution, and requires commitment for the therapy to begin to work and to actually change the way your mind behaves. Being strict with yourself and practicing the exercises everyday for at least three minutes is essential, and I struggled at first to fit mindfulness into my routine.

Unfortunately, my depression did linger during my second year of University, and by the time summer came back around, I needed a way out. I’d become too lost in my own head, and I know now that asking for a doctor’s help was the best thing I could have done for myself.

I was prescribed antidepressants, and by the time I was back at University for my final year, I had reached a calmer state of mind. I had control over myself again, and I could finally start realising what needed to change.

I wanted to create a project based on mindfulness training, as I wanted to spread awareness of mental wellbeing and how crucial it is to take care of your mental health. We exercise and eat well for the sake of our physical health, and we should monitor and take care of our mental health in the exact same way.

I decided to illustrate – with step-by-step instructions – the first mindfulness exercise that I tried. I hoped that my simple illustrations would help my audience find mindfulness training accessible, and something they could easily include within their everyday routines. I thought that a short illustrated zine would be ideal, as they could keep it beside their bed – or anywhere where they might find themselves needing a minute out from their everyday pressures.

I consider mindfulness as a way of keeping a healthy state of mind. It is about taking a moment out of your day to focus on the present, rather than the worries and stresses each of us have about the future and the past.

For me, practicing mindfulness has changed the way I think. I am able to put the things that happen to me back in perspective, and I’ve learned to change the way I react to stressful situations. My experiences with anxiety and depression have transformed my attitude towards mental wellbeing, and now I prioritise my mental health above all else.

I am a much happier person as a result.

If you think you can help us create impact with this project, then please get in touch (below).