An Introduction To Mindfulness
Stephanie Simpson, a social worker at Associates in Psychotherapy, explains what mindfulness is and how it can help one with focus, stress management, anxiety reduction, and depression.
By Stephanie Simpson, LCSW
In the past few years, mindfulness has experienced a surge in popularity among diverse populations in today’s modern society. Rooted in Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness is utilized in hospitals, schools, the workplace, fitness centers, and mental health settings. Among its benefits are stress reduction, pain tolerance, and improvement in focus. In the field of mental health, mindfulness is widely used based on its benefits related to reducing rumination, tolerating difficult emotions, and acceptance.
The goal of mindfulness is to create a state of mind where one is focused on the present moment, where there is a deliberate and non-judgmental attention to accepting and tolerating the present moment. Therapists recommend clients break this down into smaller steps to help achieve such a state of mind. Marsha Linehan, founder of (Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) labels this ideal state of mind as ‘Wise Mind,’ where a balance of examining both the facts and our emotions is achieved.
Here are two steps that comprise mindfulness:
• Observe and Describe: Begin practicing by choosing an innocuous task experience, or object, such as eating an apple. ‘Observe’ that you are taking a bite of an apple, and notice that you are chewing and it is in your mouth. Next, ‘describe’ the way it feels, tastes, and looks. For example, “the apple is red, it is crunchy, it is juicy, it tastes sweet, it is smooth, etc.” Now try applying the same principle to an emotion. Imagine feeling anxious before an exam. Many people have experienced such a moment, and they find that their thoughts are racing, their body is reacting, and they may have urges to avoid the test altogether. For one to practice mindfulness to manage such an emotion, they would start by ‘observing’ the emotion they are experiencing. This is done, without judgment, by noticing the feeling and trying to detach emotion. Next ‘describe’ the experience that your heart is racing, your palms are sweating, your stomach churning. This allows us to stay in the moment and recognize these as physical experiences that are tolerable.
• Participate and Be Non-Judgmental: ‘Participating’ refers to fully immersing yourself in the moment, without indulging any distractions. To fully participate when eating the apple, you are throwing your whole self into the experience, becoming so focused that worries are not in your present thought process. All that exists is eating the apple. Maintaining a ‘Non-judgmental stance’ requires that you refrain from judging or rating your mindful practice. I.e., “I am so terrible at mindfulness, I can’t even focus on eating this apple.” Accept that you are human; you will have a moment where your thoughts wander, and simply bring yourself back.
For those experiencing intense emotions, we want to disconnect from the challenging thoughts and urges that often accompany them. To master mindfulness one must practice the skill frequently, both during times of calmness and times of duress. When used effectively, we can gain control over our thinking patterns, which leads to relief of negative emotions.
If you are experiencing problems with focus, stress management, anxiety, or depression, please contact Associates in Psychotherapy at (866) 220-8371 for a consultation.