What is mindfulness?
“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to things as they are” (Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn, 2007)
In our daily functioning we can become so used to doing the same things that we go into ‘auto-pilot’, doing things but not fully aware of our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and reactions, in the present moment. This can become an issue when we are experiencing difficulties in our mood. By increasing awareness of ourselves, we increase the possibility of breaking old habits of negative thinking, allowing us the freedom to make choices in situations, rather than falling into old habits.
Negative thoughts can be influenced by our past experiences. It can hinder our daily functioning where we may experience emotions such as down, guilt or ashamed, based on life not being the way you had wanted or anticipated. In this process, we can lose awareness of the present moment, which can also disable our freedom of choice in dealing with situations in a more balanced and healthy manner.
Paying more attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations in your body and the world around you, in the present moment, can improve your mental wellbeing. This awareness is called mindfulness.
The present moment
The first step to overcome the negative thoughts and feelings and regain the freedom of choice is to acknowledge what is going on and to ‘be in the present moment’. This can be done using mindfulness exercises, helping you to bring an interested and friendly awareness to the way things are in each moment, without having to make any changes. These exercises are designed to increase awareness of the different regions of your body, allowing yourself to experience how each part feels, without trying to change anything.
How does mindfulness help?
The increased awareness of the present moment can help us to enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better.
Mindfulness helps us to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings that we experience, which allows us to notice patterns and the negative vicious cycle that we may feel stuck in. We can gradually train ourselves to notice when the cycle of negative thoughts and feelings are taking over, and assure ourselves that this is just a mental event that has no control of us.
Awareness of ourselves helps us to notice the signs of mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. We can use this awareness to find better ways to deal with the difficulties.
How effective is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), where they provide national advice and guidance on the most effective way to treat mental health illnesses. This is supported by the vast number of researches done on the effectiveness of mindfulness on mental health disorders.
Pros and cons of mindfulness
- Mindfulness helps with the ability to focus attention
- Mindfulness reduces rumination
- Mindfulness helps with stress reduction
- Mindfulness results in less emotional reactivity
- Mindfulness enhances self-insight, morality & intuition
- Mindfulness will not get rid of all challenges in your life
- Mindfulness will not always make you feel good
- Mindfulness is not the answer to everything
People experiencing difficulties in their life can fall in the trap of either worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, and in this process get caught up in negative automatic thoughts. At such times it is important to bring yourself in the here and now.
Mindfulness can be done formally by sustaining attention on the body, breathe and sensations, or it can be practiced informally by applying mindful attention in everyday life. To feel the benefit of mindfulness, it is important to practice daily.