The word “mindfulness” is commonly heard in society today but what does that actually mean? Could it enhance your life in any way?
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, it is the ability to become aware of what is going on inside the body and mind as well as in the external world in the present moment without casting any judgment on your experiences. It is the process by which we cultivate the skill to notice thoughts as they arise and learn to choose how we are going to respond to them rather than reacting automatically. Mindfulness gives us a chance to catch unhelpful thoughts before they propel us into a downward spiral of low mood, anxiety and self-criticism.
Why don’t we do this naturally?
The natural, default position of the mind is to go over and over what has happened to us (in our lives, last week, 5 minutes ago) and to worry about what might happen to us in the future... The mind constantly judges ourselves, others and the environment in a bid to work out what could be a potential threat. Us humans do this without having to try, it is the mind’s way of ensuring we survive in a world laden with potential threat. The mind does it all the time. This part of our brain is largely unchanged from when we were cavemen and women, when there really was life - jeopardizing threat at every turn (starvation, predators, weather patterns). In order to keep us safe, our minds easily remember negative events that have occurred in the past and then imagine, plan and predict what might happen in the future.
Why is this a problem?
It is not entirely a problem, it has its uses in keeping us safe when physically threatened, but, if the mind dominates every conscious moment we can easily end up living in the miserable past or worrying future. This default position, if we allow it to dominate, is a significant component in the development and maintenance of emotional difficulties such as stress, low mood, anxiety and generally feeling bad about ourselves. Furthermore, if we are suffering with any long term physical condition that impacts on our ability to do what is important to us, our minds can get busy again interfering with how we cope and how we see ourselves.
What are some of the signs that our minds have taken over?
What are the benefits of Mindfulness?
There has been increasing research into mindfulness in recent times and this research has shown that regular mindfulness practice can impact the following areas:
The research projects have shown that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is at least as good as medication or counselling for the treatment of those diagnosed with recurrent depression. On the back of this research, MBCT is now one of the preferred treatments for depression as advised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. MBCT has also been clinically proven to help those who are struggling with the constant demands of our modern lives. If you want to know more about the research and its findings have a look at The Finding Peace in a Frantic World website as a starting place.
Some important things to understand about Mindfulness in this context…