Mindfulness

In recent years there has been increasing clinical use of meditative practices intended to produce a particular form of awareness known as mindfulness; the basis for these practices is in the wisdom traditions of Asia. Although they have been part of Buddhist culture, for example, for thousands of years, it was in particular the team at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who is specially adapted mindfulness in the framework of the stress reduction program, to particularly apply to stress, pain and chronic illness. This type of work has proven to be as beneficial for those with chronic diseases and debilitating conditions as for those suffering from psychological problems ranging from anxiety panic attacks. We know this because actual changes in brain activity linked to negative emotions have been recorded, in addition to observable improvement in how patients feel, think and behave.

What is mindfulness?

As an alternative to rumination and worry, and being completely in thinking mode, it is possible to simply develop “awareness”. Awareness is not something new and strange; we have always had it at hand. We can have intuitions about things; we can experience them directly through our senses; we can know about things not just through our heads but also through our hearts; and we are all able to observe ourselves thinking. These are different forms of awareness.

What are the benefits of practicing mindfulness?

The advantages to developing awareness through the practice of mindfulness are many:

  • Rather than experiencing the world intellectually, we can experience it directly, without the continual barrage of our thoughts, to experience life in all its richness;
  • We can let our thoughts simply come and go, like cars driving back and forth on the road in front of our house – we know they are there but they don’t stop us from simply enjoying our book;
  • We can start living in the present moment rather than reliving the past or fretting about the future, and life becomes much more peaceful;
  • We can be less fusional with our thoughts and emotions, significantly reducing psychological distress and making us better at problem-solving;
  • We can learn to accept ourselves and life as it is through accepting (which does not mean the same thing as tolerating) discomfort in the present; and we can understand that wanting things to be different from how they are in the present is how rumination begins.

What does this imply?

Mindfulness is the awareness that comes from paying attention, in the present moment, to things as they are – purposefully and nonjudgmentally.

It means paying attention to things as they actually are in any given moment, however they are, rather than as we want them to be. And why is this helpful? Because it is the exact opposite of the type of thinking that brings about depression and anxiety.

Mindfulness techniques

Mindfulness techniques have been proven to have an evidence base for their effectiveness, especially when used in conjunction with CBT. Is for this reason that this particular combination has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence with a view to expanding use of mindfulness interventions in the British national health system and beyond.

The benefits of the practice of mindfulness

On anxiety

In this 2010 Mindfulness Report, mindfulness has been shown to significantly reduce relapse rates among people with recurrent depression, to reduce insomnia among patients with anxiety disorders, to improve anxiety and mood symptoms in people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and has also shown potential for treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome. It has been shown to reduce stress and mood disturbance, improve mood regulation and increase perceptions of control in people with long-term anxiety disorders. Study participants with mood disorders have also shown reduce negative thinking and less stress and mood disturbance symptoms.

On chronic pain

Patients with chronic pain report less pain, reduced use of medication, and state they feel less anxious and depressed. It has also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress symptoms among people receiving treatment for cancer as well as improve sleep, alleviate stress, and improve energy levels and quality of life.

A greater well-being in life satisfaction

Research suggests that mindfulness confers significant benefits for health and well-being and quality of life in general. People who are more mindful are less likely to experience psychological distress; they are less neurotic, more extroverted and report greater well-being in life satisfaction. They have less frequent negative thoughts and are more able to let them go when they arise. They have higher, more stable self-esteem that is less dependent on external factors. More mindful people enjoy more satisfying relationships, are better at communicating, and are less troubled by relationship conflict, as well as less likely to think negatively of their partners as a result of conflict.

.