Mindfulness and Its Benefits
Updated: Feb 8, 2020
The topic of mindfulness comes up often in my work with individuals and with groups. I incorporate mindfulness exercises and provide psychoeducation on mindfulness on a regular basis in my work with clients. Mindfulness is among the four modules that are taught in DBT, and as a DBT therapist, I have incorporated mindfulness not only into my practice but into my own life. It has reaped innumerable benefits for my clients and for myself. When I see my own mindfulness habits slipping, the effects are immediate and palpable. And so I figured it would be worthwhile to share a little bit more about what mindfulness is and how it can benefit your life.
What is Mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is about focusing one’s attention to the present moment. This means paying active attention to your thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and environment in the here and now. It is important to note that we can practice being mindful at any given moment. We can be mindful on our commute to work, as we wash dishes, or as we sit for an appointment in a waiting room. People may believe that they need to carve out a separate time of day to practice being mindful, and that is indeed a wonderful thing to incorporate into one’s lifestyle. That said, much of the value of practicing mindfulness comes from being able to stay present to your life as you go about your daily activities.
Why does being in the present moment help?
When my clients and I start exploring the source of their anxiety or depression, they often identify that their worries or stress stem from thoughts about the past and fears about the future. Clients often identify that they are so focused on what has happened before and what they fear will happen in the future that they are never actually focusing on what is happening in their lives right NOW. This causes people to feel disconnected from themselves, their relationships, and their interests. People may feel as though they’re living a “half-life,” not truly feeling, sensing, and LIVING their lives. By practicing mindfulness, we can start connecting to our current experiences, and begin detaching from past regrets or future worries.
How to Practice Mindfulness
There are several tangible steps you can take in order to start leading a more mindful life. I encourage you to try these suggestions and see how they make a difference in your life.
Observe - When you observe, you focus on what you can sense without labeling what you are physically experiencing. You can do this by tuning into your five senses, allowing you to take note of things you may not have noticed before. If you are walking down the street worrying about a deadline you have to meet, you may miss out on how beautiful the sky looks or how wonderful the wind feels on your skin. By being mindful of these things, you give yourself an opportunity to find more moments of serenity and joy in your life. Focus on what you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. See how doing this helps to detach you from your thoughts and helps you feel more connected to your present reality.
Describe - Describe what is observable to you and to others. It is important to describe things factually, without placing judgment (more on that in a minute) or value on what we are describing. Ways of describing sound like, “My heart is racing fast right now.” “I feel my chest tightening.” “I am feeling afraid right now.” “The wall across from me is green.” “This grapefruit is bitter.”
Describing becomes important because we need awareness of what we’re experiencing in order to figure out how to resolve our struggles. If you are anxious or resentful or hopeless, however are struggling to describe what you are feeling, then it is nearly impossible to identify tools you can use to reduce these unwanted emotions. Describing is one of the first essential steps towards gaining awareness and beginning to resolve your difficulties.
Focus on one thing at a time - This can be one of the most powerful tools available. It is so easy to slip into multi-tasking. This may look like scrolling through your phone while the TV is on and you’re talking to your partner. Or taking a phone call while you write an email and search for an important document. If you find yourself in scenarios like these, you may feel scattered, disconnected, anxious, hurried, and tense. By focusing on just one thing in the moment, you give yourself space to TRULY connect to what you are doing. You may notice that those feelings of tension and anxiety start to melt away. You may find yourself enjoying what you’re doing so much more. You may feel closer to and more understood by the person you are talking to if all of your focus remains on them and nothing else.
Practice non-judgment - This one’s a doozy and deserves its own post. We all judge. We can’t help it and moreover we NEED to judge in order to remain safe. We each make judgments on a daily basis in order to stay alive. Do you make that left turn at the intersection? Is it safe to cross the street? Are those leftovers just a tad too old to eat? You make judgments about these sorts of things in order to care for yourself and survive.
You want to avoid the kinds of judgments that evaluate emotions, thoughts, or things as “good,” “bad,” “above,” or “below” you. These kinds of judgments often limit you from engaging in things you may end up enjoying or distancing yourself from people with which you may end up having a meaningful connection. And so often, the judgments we make about others are reflections of judgments or fears we have about ourselves. We may also often judge our thoughts and feelings as being “good,” “bad,” “right,” or “wrong.” When we find ourselves doing this, we can enter into self-loathing and self-talk that tells us there’s something wrong with us for thinking and feeling the way we do. When we remove judgment from our emotions and thoughts, we can begin to feel compassion for our ourselves and normalize that, as humans, we are designed to feel all kinds of emotions and think all kinds of things. It is okay to be human!
I encourage you to try some of the suggestions above and find some ways to create a more mindful life. The benefits can be so powerful and truly have a positive impact on your mental health, relationships, and quality of life.