Mindfulness in Mental Health
Mindfulness practices have been incorporated into mental health treatments for many years; however, for the past decade, there has been an increase in interest and popularity of this approach. Maybe we can blame this on our increasingly fast-paced society and/or the fact that technology has now made its way into every aspect of our lives (i.e., a smart phone in the hands of most of us, 24/7). People are seeking ways to slow down and disconnect, and practicing mindfulness is one way to do that. Mindfulness keeps our thoughts in the present, instead of the past or future.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is a therapeutic approach that incorporates mindfulness practices of meditation and deep breathing with the traditional Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques of identifying and replacing negative thinking patterns that contribute to various emotional symptoms. MBCT has been found to be effective in treating various disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder, as well as helping people cope with chronic stress and even cognitive issues associated with traumatic brain injury.
One of the great things about the mindfulness aspect of MBCT is that rather than focusing on decreasing or eliminating symptoms, such as negative thinking (which is typical of people who struggle with depression, for instance), more attention is placed on observing these thought processes and becoming aware of them.
In mindfulness meditation, you are guided in the process of focusing on your breath or on placing your attention to things going on around you, in the present moment (e.g., the gentle breeze sweeping over your face, the sunshine touching your shoulders, the sound of birds chirping in the trees). You are then instructed to observe any thoughts that pull you away from the present, even if the thought is negative, but avoid judging the thought. Simply observe it, and then let it pass and continue to focus on your breathing or the other object of your meditation. This intervention is known as decentering.
Mindfulness Throughout the Day
If a seated, deep-breathing meditation isn’t your thing, there are also other forms of meditation, such as walking meditations or other active types of meditation. In these active meditations, you place your focus on any object or action in your environment. It can be as simple as cleaning your stovetop or washing dishes and focusing on the scent of the cleaning liquid, the way the warm water feels on your hands, the sound of the kitchen faucet running, and the motion of your arms and hands as you work. The purpose of the exercise is to engage your senses (i.e., smell, sight, touch, sound) and focus on the actions and sensations of the present moment, not what happened earlier in the day, or what will happen later.
During a simple, and typically “thoughtless” session of doing chores, most people are caught up in thoughts about the argument they had with their boss that day, or issues with their spouse or kids, or maybe a health problem, or an upcoming bill that needs to be paid. These thoughts can literally take over your life, keeping you everywhere but the present and robbing you of the precious moments you have in the here and now. With enough practice, mindfulness can help you transfer these here and now moments from a simple chore in the kitchen to being more mindful and more present in time spent with family, in your day off from work, or even during the 10 minutes you have to sip your morning coffee.
As you practice being more mindful, you are able to truly relish in the present and this improves wellbeing, reduces stress, leads to greater gratitude and positive thoughts, improves quality of life, and contributes to greater overall happiness and satisfaction. Mindfulness also helps you to be able to cope with stressors that may arise, as you become better able to handle any negative or unhelpful thoughts by letting them pass without attaching emotions to them and internalizing those emotions. Thoughts no longer control you; instead, you become in control of whether you stay inside your own head or decide to experience the world around you and outside of you.