What Is Mindfulness?
MINDFULNESS is an exciting technique, its effectiveness supported by much research evidence, which is now becoming very popular as a tool for the treatment of conditions related to childhood trauma, including depression, anxiety, difficulties regulating emotions and borderline personality disorder (BPD). It derives from Buddhist philosophy.
The technique teaches people to improve their coping ability and resilience by concentrating on :
– how they breathe
– adopting a non-judgmental attitude
Individuals are encouraged to just accept and observe their thoughts, their physical sensations (perhaps caused by anxiety) and their emotions as they come and go in the mind.
The technique emphasizes the importance of just observing these phenomenon in a detached way, stepping back from them, avoiding engaging with them or getting caught up in them. A metaphor for this would be watching leaves on a stream float by.
Mindfulness is also all about being intensely involved in the MOMENT (rather than thinking about the past or future). It is about accepting the moment as it is and being fully involved in it – for example, becoming aware of our breath going in and out, the feel of the temperature on our skin, the feel of the seat we are sitting in, the feel of the clothes against our skin, the colour of the walls – everything, in fact, which is currently impinging upon the senses. By existing in the moment, unconcerned by the past or present, we can just dispassionately, non-judgmentally ‘watch’ our concerns and worries as they pass through our mind.
In this way we can detach ourselves from stressors, and, with practice, we can prevent our previously unhelpful, ‘automatic responses’ to stress. The technique also encourages us, as we simply observe, in a detached manner, thoughts and feelings passing through our minds, to label them. For example, ‘worry’, ‘fear’ etc; the reason for this is explained below:
NEUROLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS ABOUT WHY MINDFULNESS WORKS:
As I have already said, there is a lot of evidence showing MINDFULNESS to be a very effective coping technique. In terms of how the brain works, this has been explained in the following way: – labelling our emotions rather than engaging with them activates the PREFRONTAL CORTEX (an area of the brain) which reduces anxiety – a high level of MINDFULNESS correlates positively with the level of neural activity in the PREFRONTAL CORTEX; this has the effect of dampening down acivity in the AMYGDALA (high activity in the brain area known as the AMYGDALA is associated with intense emotions); in this way, we become much calmer. – the effects of practicing MINDFULNESS, and the subsequent effects on the brain given above, result in us being able to achieve much greater emotional regulation (emotional control).
As well as reducing anxiety, depression and helping us to master our emotions, MINDFULNESS, research has shown, also benefits the immune system, helps people control obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and is also used to help control chronic pain. Furthermore, people who continue to practice mindfulness have been found to have stronger coping skills and greater resilience than others.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).