Whether you are struggling with past memories, anxiety, or depression, mindfulness can be a helpful skill for coping with those difficult moments in your day to day life. We covered a few mindfulness practices in the Five Ways to Find Calm post, but today I want to talk more about the what and the why of mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of staying in the present moment. You can do an intentional practice (often called meditation) or you find mindful moments through your day. The main component of mindfulness is the focus on the present moment, meaning you are not thinking about the past or the future. Because our minds are made to think, this task can be challenging. It is easy to start a mindful moment and for your mind to quickly shift. When I go to yoga, I often find myself making my grocery list in my head instead of using the still moments to practice mindfulness. It’s why mindfulness is called a practice. It requires returning to a mindful state over and over again. It's not a state of awareness that is magically achieved.
Why practice mindfulness?
In therapy, mindfulness can be a useful tool to observe your thoughts without becoming attached to them. It can be really helpful because mindfulness allows you to watch your thoughts rather than get sucked in by them. You can gather the information that those thoughts, memories, emotions, or body sensations are trying to tell you without feeling overwhelmed by them. But like I said above, it is also why mindfulness is a practice and not a state of being. You may get glimpses of this practice, and there may be times where it is easier and times where it is harder to practice the observer stance.
In addition, mindfulness has been gaining more support from research in recent years. Certain mindfulness practices are now associated with better physical and mental health. A randomized control study by Vollstad et al. (2011) found significant reductions in symptoms of depression and anxiety for participants who completed an eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction class. I highly recommend checking out the National Institute for Health’s page on mindfulness for more information about the research on mindfulness.
What to try mindfulness?
Here are links to an app and a website with guided practices to get you started:
Insight Timer: This app has over 2000 free guided meditations as well as a meditation timer if you want to do a self-guided practice.
Chris Germer’s Guided Meditations : Chris Germer's work focuses on self-compassion, but he offers a variety of guided meditations to listen to on his website.