The Mindfulness Craze: Hype or Truth?
Even though mindfulness and meditation practices have been helping people for thousands of years, mindfulness has become a buzz word in the past few years. It's all over the news and lifestyle headlines:
"Mindfulness Stops Stress!"
"Learn How To Be a More Mindful Parent/Worker/Spouse/Lover/Friend/Student/Person/etc."
"Mindfulness Reduces Mental and Emotional Illness"
Sometimes new trends are nothing more than hype. But some trends are here to stay, because they work. This is the case with mindfulness, because it actually IS a big deal and can truly help change your brain in positive ways.
There is an overwhelming amount of research supporting the effectiveness of mindfulness in helping people cope with stress, anxiety, depression, relationships, trauma, and a whole host of the concerns. It's been shown to increase personal happiness and overall well-being.
I try to pay attention to research because I want to do what works to help my clients, not just whatever is trendy. Years ago, I started paying attention to the strong evidence supporting mindfulness. I chose to get intensively trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a mindfulness-based form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and have since intentionally incorporated mindfulness into my counseling sessions with my clients. Today, I regularly teach my clients how to use mindfulness for a variety of emotional, psychological, physical and social benefits. If you're looking for more reasons to try mindfulness, read on:
Change Starts With Awareness
Most people look to therapy because they want to change something in their life, whether it's themselves, their relationships, or something else. Mindfulness is the foundation to creating lasting change in your life. That's because change has to start with awareness. How can you change something if you're not yet aware of what's going on?
The first step in awareness is becoming conscious about what's going on inside of you and outside of you. It's about maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of any internal stimuli, such as your thoughts, feelings, urges, and bodily sensations, as well as any external stimuli, such as noises, temperature, smells, or any other sensations in your surrounding environment.
Getting Off The Emotional Rollercoaster
Learning mindfulness is my first recommendation for anyone looking to manage their emotions better, particularly intense, overwhelming or difficult feelings such as worry, sadness, fear, shame, anger, and destructive urges. It really helps you to "get off the emotional roller coaster," so to speak.
Regularly practicing mindfulness is one of the best known (and researched) ways to regulate your emotions. You grow in your ability to calm yourself by mindfully grounding yourself when your emotions start to feel out of control. You learn how to pause and decide whether or not you want to respond to any thoughts or feelings that might be inviting you to hop on board that roller coaster.
Separating Yourself From Your Thoughts
When you first start practicing mindfulness, you increasingly become more aware that you are separate from your thoughts, your feelings, your behaviors, urges, and everything going on inside or outside of yourself etc.
With a new awareness of this separateness, you realize that thoughts, feelings and urges come and go, like waves in the ocean, up and down, sometimes calm, and sometimes stormy. Mindful awareness teaches you that:
- You don't have to scratch every itch
- You don't have to follow every urge
- You don't have to act on every impulse
- You don't have to respond to difficult feelings or thoughts
- You don't have to "show up" to every argument you're invited to
- You can pause before you make any reactions, and become empowered to be more in charge of yourself
Accepting That Whatever Is, Just Is
A big part of mindfulness involves acceptance. You learn pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for example, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to feel or think in any given moment.
You hate feeling this way. You hate thinking this way. So you're angry. So you're ashamed. So you're ticked off. Okay. It's there. It exists, and you're just acknowledging it. Acceptance doesn't mean "agreeing with" or even "liking" something. It's just accepting what is, knowing that it's there, and that it exists, and not trying to "fight it".
Interested in Learning Mindfulness On Your Own? Practice Mindfulness With Guided Meditations:
Not sure how to get started? Try listening to one of these free guided meditations offered by the UCLA Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC):
Here's a Preview of What Regularly Practicing Mindfulness Can Do For You:
- You're able to tune into whatever you're sensing in the present moment rather than getting stuck on rehashing the past or imagining the future.
- You're aware of what is going on within yourself.
- You grow to experience calm and peace about the moment, regardless of what's happening.
- You can let go of the temptation to let your mind wander wherever (mindlessness).
- You can willingly let your mind go to a certain place.
- You can anchor yourself in the present moment.
- You don't try to change your thoughts or the images in your mind as much as you try to change your own awareness of your thoughts.
- You increase your concentration so that when difficult memories or thoughts come, you're able to separate yourself from them and look at them like you would any other thought, feeling, urge, memory, etc.
- When you think about something difficult that happened to you in the past, you learn how to do some deep breathing to stay in the moment. You're aware of the feelings and thoughts you're having in reaction to that memory. You learn how to tell yourself that the reaction (for example, feeling sudden fear while recollecting an experience with a car accident) was appropriate in the past situation (when you were in a car accident), but not appropriate at this moment (you're safely sitting at home).
- If you continue to have intense thoughts or feelings after mindfully concentrating, you learn how to use distraction techniques to "survive the moment" without making things worse. This is covered further in DBT skills training.
- You learn that suffering happens when you try to fight pain. Suffering makes the pain seem bigger when you're always saying, “I can’t stand this. It will never go away.”
- Instead of fighting pain and suffering because of it, you learn to observe and describe whatever you are experiencing in the moment, even if it's painful. You learn to stop telling yourself that "you can't handle it", and you stop fighting the pain. As you mindfully experience more difficult emotions and thoughts, you grow confident that you can indeed "handle it". When you stop fighting it, and just allow it, you can look at it from a mindful perspective, without judging yourself or the experience.
- When the experience of pain comes, you acknowledge it, and don’t fight it. Then the pain eventually goes away without the continued suffering that comes from fighting it.
- You learn that you can be mindful of whatever you choose to focus on, rather than whatever your mind wants to drag you into. Learning how to be mindful gives you better control over what you want to give your attention, allowing you to choose to focus on whatever is effective in that moment. For example, when you're in an important meeting, you may wish to choose to focus on the speaker, rather than on the thoughts or feelings that are arising in you. You learn how to notice them, and allow them to exist, but you don't "follow" them. You gently bring your focus back to the speaker.
Interested in Learning Mindfulness But Want Some Help?
If you're interested in getting more training in meditation or mindfulness, consider taking UCLA's online course. If you're looking for basic mindfulness training or want to learn any of the other skills covered in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance, or interpersonal effectiveness, please contact me about counseling.
If you are looking for more specialized training in meditation and mindfulness, you should consider meditation coaching, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or yoga therapy with my talented friend and colleague, Lena Franklin, LCSW, who has a private counseling practice located in the Midtown area of Atlanta. Alternatively, there is great training program in Atlanta run by Dr. Stephanie Swann, which is an 8-week training course in mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) through her company, The Atlanta Mindfulness Institute.