You may have heard of mindfulness, as it’s a popular and highly-researched topic nowadays. But how can mindfulness help you feel better and more at peace in your life?
Mindfulness is an Eastern concept that involves attunement to the present moment without judgment, interpretations, and opinions. Mindfulness is a different way of thinking and experiencing reality. It is not second nature to perceive reality in this way- as human beings, we are constantly working to analyze and change things. This does serve us well at times- this innate human tendency has helped us survive in the wild, build communities, and excel in school or work. But if you are experiencing depression, anxiety, stress or overcoming trauma, it can be eye-opening to pay attention to where you are devoting your mind’s energy.
Oftentimes we devote our mental energy to the past or the future. So if you are unhappy, overwhelmed, or overly emotional, take a moment to notice at what point in time your mind is focused- past or future? Mindfulness is more than a coping skill (though it is that too), it’s a way of life that allows us to enjoy each moment as we are fully living it.
Mindfulness allows us to be a witness to the moment. This includes our own emotions, thoughts, and experiences, as well as those of others. Mindfulness positively influences our communication skills. It strengthens our old relationships and helps us form enjoyable new relationships.
There have been several experts within the mental health field who were the early pioneers of mindfulness psychology. In recognizing the mental benefits that having an increased and non-judgmental awareness could have on the human psyche, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, in 1979, created a method called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) that proved effective in helping patients with medical concerns cope with the mental and physical effects of their conditions. These patients experienced a decrease in depression and anxiety with increased levels of happiness and well-being, despite their medical conditions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is still widely practiced today and is applicable to those of us without chronic pain or illness as well.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), the work of Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, has been proven effective in treating depression, anxiety and trauma. Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), is based in mindfulness practice. DBT goes beyond mindfulness meditation and provides mindfulness exercises that are applicable to everyday situations, activities and communication.
Mindfulness and the Brain: Why Mindful Therapy?
I have seen mindfulness exercises and mindfulness meditation help those with low-self esteem evolve into confident and assertive individuals. I’ve witnessed mindfulness-based therapy decrease depression, anxiety and an unstable mood. I’ve seen it help with sleep and improve concentration, focus, and productivity at work. I’ve found that mindful therapy has helped my clients become calmer people who are better able to relax and self-soothe and are no longer plagued by anxiety in social settings, work performance, you name it.
Mindfulness advances the brain and strengthens prefrontal cortex functioning.
Here are some of the jobs of the pre-frontal cortex:
- Helps us stop and pause before reacting
- Decreases impulsivity
- Helps us feel more empathy (connection to others from a place of deep understanding)
- Fosters moral judgment
Mindfulness gives us greater control over our bodies and minds, consequently allowing us to better manage our moods, urges, and impulses. The ability to stop and think things through before reacting not only serves us well, but also benefits others in our lives.
Because mindfulness involves focused concentration, it also has been shown to improve memory, focus/concentration, and productivity (it’s great for ADD/ADHD).
How do we practice mindfulness in therapy?
In our work together mindfulness sets the foundation for everything we do; it is the underlying framework for therapy. At times it won’t seem like we’re doing mindfulness at all because this framework can be quite subtle- something as simple as paying attention to the breath as you’re talking about an upsetting experience, having awareness of where in the body sensation is arising as you’re feeling a powerful emotion, or working to be less judgmental and more open-minded about a particular experience- allowing yourself to see a challenging experience from multiple angles.
Sometimes it may be quite obvious that we are practicing mindfulness. I might say, “What if we try a mindfulness meditation right now?” or “Let’s practice how we can bring mindfulness into this conversation with your boss to make it go a bit smoother.”
You might be someone who is interested in integrating yoga therapy into our talk therapy sessions, and yoga too, is a mindfulness practice.
I invite you to schedule a free 30-minute consultation today (face-to-face or via phone) to see if taking a holistic and mindful approach to therapy would benefit you. I offer mindfulness-based therapy in my office and via online counseling.
Mindfulness is not to be missed!