What Is Mindfulness (And How Can It Help With Managing Mental Health)?
I’m sure you’ve probably heard the term mindfulness in some context by now.
“Take a few deep breaths.”
“Just close your eyes and relax.”
Doesn’t sound overly helpful, does it?
That’s what I thought when I first learned about mindfulness in therapy. My first thoughts were along the lines of ‘this is stupid’ and ‘how is this going to help me?’.
But the truth is that the practice of mindfulness can be an incredibly powerful tool to help with managing your mental health, even if it doesn’t initially feel like it.
Before I go into the how, let me give you a brief overview of what mindfulness actually is.
What is mindfulness?
According to headspace.com, mindfulness can be defined as ‘the quality of being present and fully engaged with whatever we’re doing at the moment — free from distraction or judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them.’
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 3 elements of mindfulness break this definition down even further:
- Have deliberate attention (paying attention on purpose).
- Being non-judgmental (not seeing things as good or bad, nor through the filter of personal judgment based on past conditioning, but rather seeing things “as they are”).
- Being nonreactive (to react is automatic, which implies no choice, and may not necessarily be the best for you or for others).
In essence, mindfulness is a practice in which an individual purposefully brings their focus to the present moment, removing judgement and emotion, allowing the ‘wise mind’ to kick in and critically assess the situation.
So that sounds all well and good, but how will this actually help me?
Learning and practicing mindfulness skills over time can play a crucial role improving mental health. In fact, mindfulness is a core component of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) and is usually the first skill introduced as a part of the treatment process.
In essence, practicing mindfulness over time may help you to build a solid foundation upon which further distress tolerance and emotional regulation skills can be built.
One of the biggest benefit that mindfulness can provide in respect to mental health (in my non-professional opinion) is that once you have trained your brain to be more aware of what is happening in the present moment, it can be easier to recognize your thoughts, feelings, and emotions in real time, and help you to pull yourself out of a heightened emotional state before things escalate beyond the point of no return.
At the end of the day, your brain is like a muscle – practicing mindfulness over time will increase your ability to call on this skill at the moments when you need it most.
Okay so how do I practice mindfulness?
Nowadays there are so many ways to practice mindfulness, and like most things in life, what works for one person may not necessarily work for another.
A quick google search for 'mindfulness techniques' will lead you to hundreds of suggestions, however a few of my favourites include:
- 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique.
- Body scanning.
- Square breathing.
- Mindful eating.
- Guided meditation.
And if all else fails, check out our Mindfulness Box for some handy resources to get you started on your mindfulness journey.
Much like self soothing, mastering mindfulness will take time. Be patient with yourself, and be sure to celebrate the tiny milestones along the way - they definitely add up!