You have probably heard of mindfulness because suddenly it's everywhere! There is a description of how to be mindful on the page about mindfulness as a self help technique but mindfulness has been incorporated into various treatment approaches in the field of psychological therapy.
The main reason for this is that mindfulness-based treatments focus on teaching ways of being calmer and accepting whatever difficulties are arising. This approach is very different from those previously used. Previous methods concentrated on getting rid of symptoms.
Mindfulness-based treatments are more concerned with focusing on what is possible in the here and now. They teach that if we can accept whatever is going on in this moment then often the rest will gradually sort itself out. That may sound simplistic but it works.
But, if I don't try and stop them, they will overwhelm me!
Ironically in most cases this won't happen. We tend to assume it will because we have been taught that physical problems shouldn't be ignored or they might develop into something much worse and even fatal. Indeed this is often true of things that are wrong with our bodies.
But the nature of psychological problems is very different.
The vast majority get better if you take less notice of them and devote the energy you had been putting into struggle into something more enjoyable. (NB I am not referring to serious mental illness here).
The section on Causes of Anxiety explains in more detail how struggle leads to increased negative arousal which creates more anxiety rather than less.
Which Treatments are Mindfulness-Based?
Back in 2004 when I started running therapy courses based upon mindfulness very few people knew what it was.
Although it has its origins in Buddhism, it was introduced into healthcare in the 1980's in the US by Jon Kabat Zinn. He then published a book about this work entitled, "Full Catastrophe Living".
Various psychological therapies have been developed using mindfulness as a base notably Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (MBCT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
Therapies utilising the principles of mindfulness are often referred to as "Third Wave CBT".
CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and just means that the approach focuses on the link between what we are thinking and how we are feeling.
The main difference between mindfulness-based treatments and traditional CBT is that, whereas CBT requires patients to "challenge" their unwanted thoughts and feelings, mindfulness teaches acceptance of what is.
This means that, instead of struggling to change and, in doing so, focus even more energy on the unwanted, mindfulness teaches ways of focusing attention on more positive thoughts and feelings instead.
Furthermore, people engaged in these therapies find them a pleasure to do. This is refreshing after many of them have previously tried traditional CBT approaches which often entail boring routine activities such as keeping a "thought diary" and engaging with activities which provoke anxiety.
So what does a mindfulness-based approach entail?
Many people mistakenly think that mindfulness = meditation. This is not necessarily the case.
Mindfulness in its purest form is a whole way of being. It entails acceptance of the world experience just as it is. Because it is as it is.
It's about being within the world just as you are.
It means living with awareness in the 'here and now' because 'now' is the only oart that is relevant.
Sounds lovely but don't see how I can do that! Don't think the boss would like it for one!
Of course. The great thing about mindfulness is that you don't have to become a Buddhist monk in order to use it. There are many aspects of mindfulness which can be adapted and used easily and beneficially in everyday life as we know it.
A Brief Overview of the Theory of Mindfulness
There are three components to Mindfulness. These are often shown as points on an equilateral triangle in order to demonstrate that each one is of equal importance.
So, in no particular order, there's:
ACCEPTANCE - accepting what is and not trying to get rid of it. Instead either focusing on it mindfully or deliberately removing the focus to something else.
NON-JUDGMENT - how often do we have an opinion about something about which we don't need to have one. There is no need (unless it's part of our job or we have to make a decision about something) for us to have an opinion either way about other matters. Yet so often we form these and they are all too often negative.
AWARENESS - this means being aware of what we are experiencing as we experience it. Usually we neglect the input of our senses - what we are tasting, smelling, feeling against our skin in particular. Those of us who have sight and hearing tend to focus solely on those or, worse, on what we are thinking!
Most of what we are thinking in any given moment is unnecessary and is often negative in nature.
It is easier to get to grips with this philosophy of life using everyday examples. "In the Moment Blog" has articles which consider each of these components of Mindfulness in more detail as they happen in everyday life and invites your comments.
Sounds too good to be true!
It's not magic. You still have to put it into practice and that takes time and persistence BUT...
Whereas many of the things we want to achieve require effort and often a degree of self-denial e.g.
- Losing weight often means doing exercise we don't feel naturally inclined towards and not eating lots of the things we enjoy the most.
- Gaining qualifications means spending time studying, sometimes studying bits we don't really find easy, and not always just doing what we feel like doing.
- Keeping New Year Resolutions means changing the behaviours, which obviously come naturally and easily, in order to be a better person of some kind.
Mindfulness as an approach to overcoming psychological problems actually involves learning to do more of what feels good!
No wonder it's catching on BIG TIME!
When I overcame my own acute anxiety state back in 1981 I didn't know the first thing about mindfulness. Nevertheless I carefully studied what did and didn't work for my own difficulties.
It was only in 1990 when I read Jon Kabat Zinn's book that I realised I had instinctively used a form of mindfulness to sort myself out. Since then I have always used this approach in my professional life as a psychologist.
Life's not meant to be a struggle!
In fact, I'd maybe even go as far as to say that if you're struggling you're doing it wrong! That is certainly true of trying to overcome anxiety issues.
We are all taught in school that we must work hard in order to achieve success.
We tend to feel that anything which comes too easily is simply not worth having.
This may be true in some instances but it isn't true of overcoming anxiety.
A Therapeutic Approach using Mindfulness is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
Find out more in one (or more) of the following ways:
Outlines a step by step approach to overcoming anxiety issues using mindfulness but without the need for long meditation sessions.
Offers over 3.5 hours of video in over 30 lessons which can be taken at your own pace and takes you through the process step by step.
To understand how this therapeutic approach and Mindfulness go together go to this page.