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The Importance of Being Mindful …

Posted by admin 3:48 am, 6 April 2014

Recently I have been reflecting on the importance of the skill of mindfulness in so many therapeutic modalities. Over the past two days some Mindright colleagues and I have been attending a conference that is being run by Dr Marsha Linehan, the mother of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), an American doctor of psychology who is considered something of a superstar among us! DBT was designed for borderline personality disorder but has also been shown to be extremely effective in treating depression, substance abuse and eating disorders. It was the first western therapeutic approach to include mindfulness in the 1980’s, and since that time it has been considered by many to be an important skill to help individuals with a range of mental health diagnoses including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and bipolar disorder. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (MB-CBT) are two other therapeutic approaches that include mindfulness as an essential component of treatment.

So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is the skill of observing one’s experience with awareness and without judgement. Mindfulness has been shown to increase contentment and happiness and also to calm strong emotions. It has been used in Buddhism for thousands of years, and is similar to prayer in other religions. It involves both participating in and observing the present moment so that we are truly present and one with all around us. So often when people feel anxious their minds are focussed in the past or the future, rather than in the present. We are focusing on the ‘what if’s’ and the things we regret, or analysing our interactions with others. Much of the time we are focusing on things that we cannot change, where as if we focus on the present moment we actually have the ability to accept it, improve it and change the direction of our future.

Our minds are constantly commenting on our day to day lives, and our inner voice is often our harshest critic. Sometimes our mind is like a wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be an honest and wise commentator, when it is often very negative. This is why mindfulness is so important; if we can simply observe our thoughts and see them for what they are, just thoughts, we have the ability to notice them without judgement.

The same non-judgemental observation can be applied to our emotions, senses, physical pain and experiences. If we are able to be aware of our emotions we may be able to gain insight into what has triggered them, accept them and decide how best to  manage difficult emotions. Mindfulness is a cognitive skill that can be learnt and improved over time. One of the most calming mindfulness techniques is to simply observe the breath. If you are able to bring your full attention to your breath as the air moves in and out, bringing your mind back to this focus whenever it wanders to other things, then you can start to improve your ability to focus and be mindful. Another strategy is to start doing something you always do in a mindful way. For example, the developers of ACT suggest drinking tea mindfully; taking the time to experience the taste, smell and warmth of the tea.

Mindfulness can also be used in yoga and meditation. It can be practiced whist walking to work, or washing the dishes. However you would prefer to include mindfulness in your life, it is a skill that is now considered to be an important psychological strategy that can help individuals improve their quality of life, so why not give it a try?!

Written by Dr Rani Ellison, Clinical Psychologist Mindright