Mindfulness has become a trend that has gotten the attention of many people. Once a sacred practice – such as mindfulness – becomes popularized, the depth can be lost in translation. In order to return to what made this holistic practice popular, let’s take a look at the meaning of mindfulness and how it can be used as a form of therapy for many mental health disorders such as PTSD, addiction, and even depression.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness comes in many forms. Mindfulness is the practice of “living in the moment” and exercising non-judgemental awareness. Stepping back, taking an objective view, and accepting things exactly as they are, is the best way to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating, moving meditation (yoga/tai chi), and mindful breathing is other ways to implement this practice into your daily routine. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions. Chaos and meditation cannot coexist. Meditation cultivates awareness and disrupts unmanageability.
Practising mindfulness and meditation is similar to going to the gym – you will not necessarily see immediate results, but overtime practical application will pay off. If you practice mindfulness, daily, for a month you may notice a tangible difference in your relationships, insights, intuition, and awareness. You may notice the absence of stressors, triggers, fears, irritability, and you may even notice an overall improvement in your quality of life.
Mindfulness is rooted in ancient Buddhism practices. The goal of mindfulness is enlightenment which refers to awareness, attention and remembering. Raising awareness, raising attention to, and remembering the goal can help the individual manifest their own ideas. Mindfulness meditation is especially beneficial to individuals in early recovery and others struggling with mental health. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions.
BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS
I know what you’re probably thinking – “This sounds too good to be true.” Honestly, mindfulness doesn’t turn us into saints, but it can cultivate major changes that promote a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Founding co-director of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center – Daniel Siegel – has spent over 20 years studying the overwhelming beneficial effects meditation has on the brain. Siegel outlined 9 benefits of practicing meditation and mindfulness on a regular basis:
Emotional Balance – Mental illness may be a direct result of overwhelming, repressed, and even ignored emotions. For example, PTSD can be a direct result of trauma(s) that were too overwhelming to process. The individual may struggle with flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, and hypersensitivity. Lacking in coping skills, an individual may turn to drugs and alcohol in order to suppress the overwhelming emotions. Mindfulness encourages an individual to be present in the moment and to practice radical acceptance – even over things that may be painful or uncomfortable for an individual. This practice can encourage the individual to let go of shame from the past and relinquish the need to be anxious over the future. Mindfulness can promote the ability to be receptive and open to emotions, which ultimately promotes a healthy emotional balance.
Body Regulation – In regards to the body, regulate refers to the way the nervous system accelerates and decelerates in order to function properly. Anxiety and fear trigger the body’s fight-or-flight survival system. During this process, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is activated. This response prepares the body to react to stresses such as threat or injury, causing the muscles to contract increases heart rate. On the contrary, mindfulness activates the parasympathetic system which controls the functions of the body at rest. This process promotes homeostasis causing the muscles to relax and decreases heart rate. Practicing mindfulness can be extremely important for recovering addicts and individuals struggling with other mental health disorders. Mental health disorders are often triggered when stress is high, which may ultimately lead to unhealthy coping skills such as triggering panic attacks, cultivating depressive thoughts, and even turning to drugs or alcohol. Learning how to relax the mind and body will positively relieve stress.
Attuned Communication – Attuned communication refers to the connection between two humans and overall communication with a larger whole. As a part of healthy relationships, this process occurs when two systems become part of one resonating whole and play a role in every culture on the planet. This survival skill is specific to the relationship between spouses, children, and caregivers. Tumultuous relationships, in early childhood, can be directly correlated with mental health disorders amongst adults. Healthy relationships support a sense of purpose, connection, and overall wellbeing.
Fear Extinction/Modulation – Fight-or-flight responses can be triggered by real stimuli as well as imagined ones. For example, individuals struggling with PTSD may re-experience a traumatic event simply caused by a trigger and not an event actually taking place. Mindfulness can help an individual undo or unlearn a learned fear. Mindfulness can shift our entire perspective and help eliminate unnecessary feelings of fear and anxiety.
Insight – Most of us are familiar with this term, but in science, insight refers to self-knowing awareness. For survival purposes, insight is how we explore the experiences of our past, the present moment, and even our anticipation for the future. Humans use this process to see oneself in a deeper way. Mindfulness promotes attention focused reflection as well as slowing down the racing thoughts of the mind.
Empathy – Empathy is the process of figuratively putting yourself in the shoes of another person. In other words, it’s the ability to take on the mental perspective of another person. Empathy allows us to have compassion, healthy communication, problem-solving skills, and overall connection with others. Mindfulness allows us to slow our minds and promotes our ability to be empathetic with others.
Intuition – Intuition, in science, is the process in which nonverbal information is processed in areas of our experience. This information is sourced from a place beyond the thinking mind and may even be trigger physiological responses from the body. Mindfulness practices open the communication for these inner resources and the ability to receive intuitive information from sources deep within ourselves.
Response Flexibility – Most of us have heard the cliche phrase “pause before responding”. Response flexibility creates space between impulse and action. This is one of the most difficult but rewarding benefits of mindfulness. For example, an individual may be able to observe the behaviors of others without judgment and not take it as a personal attack. This specific space is mindful awareness. This specific asset can give a person power when responding to life on life’s terms. Mindfulness encourages observance, acceptance, and control over impulsivity – which can benefit an individual in every aspect of his/her life.
Morality – Morality is a subject that wavers from person to person. Surprisingly, mindfulness can positively affect how an individual contributes to the common good of the whole. Mindfulness encourages us to not only make changes socially but also help our ability to take positive and proactive action. The calmness and self-care, promoted in mindfulness, can support growth in moral thinking, decision-making, and behaviors.
Mindful practices can change the rewiring of the brain and the overall functioning of the body. There is an innumerable amount of benefits of mindfulness in regard to recovering and mitigating mental health disorders. Therefore, mindfulness and meditation are often utilized, as therapeutic techniques, by many psychologists, therapists, and mental health professionals. Most importantly, these practices can help us gain a healthy and overall balanced relationship with life itself.
Author Bio – Tricia advocates long-term sobriety by writing for detoxlocal.com, providing resources to recovering addicts, and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.