What is Mindfulness and Why is it Important?

Today’s blog was written by CFSSC Clinician Royce Tucker, B.A. (Hons.) Psychology., M.C. Counselling Psychology., RP., C.C.C.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness has its origins in the Buddhist tradition as a way to focus consciousness, increase present moment awareness and develop compassion and kindness towards self and other beings. It’s more of a way of being, rather than doing that can be developed through various mindfulness practices (i.e. breathing space, walking and sitting meditations).

Mindfulness is something we can foster through conscious and purposeful practice. Mindfulness is about the individual’s purposeful and relaxed attention to the information coming from the senses and having the choice that mindfulness offers to respond, rather than react to this information. We are all mindful to a certain degree. We are mindful when we view a beautiful sunset or an inspiring piece of art as our full attention is focused on this. 

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is informed by a mindful practice and can be used when clinically appropriate, as a tool to help clients with a variety of issues. Mindfulness is an evidenced-based approach for many issues, including depression and anxiety.

Why is mindfulness important?

In our Western World, where we value our productivity, mindfulness can assist us with being more efficient. As humans, we put emphasis on multitasking rather than prioritizing what is important and focusing attention on one task at a time. As for mental health, it can help individuals regulate their biological and psychological processes. The instinct to react to something can be offset when someone has an increased awareness of their mind (thoughts and emotions) and body (physiological arousal, for example, a racing heart or tense muscles).

For any change to occur, specifically in psychotherapy, there needs to be some sort of self-awareness to one’s experience in the world. However, most frameworks of psychotherapy posit that it is more than just awareness that is needed to bring around change. Awareness is one of the first steps, as it shines the light on maladaptive thoughts, behaviours, and emotions, in order for us to see options for change.

How can a personal mindfulness practice impact your mental health?

Mindfulness can have positive impacts on multiple areas of a person’s life, including, psychological, physical and social. For example, being more aware of stressors, eating habits and communicating with others. Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce rumination (thinking things over and over), reduce stress and anxiety, decrease emotional reactivity, increase focus, help with memory, develop more fulfilling social relationships, among other things.

How can you integrate mindfulness into your daily life?

There are informal and formal practices one can use during the course of a day. Formal practices can be in the form of meditations.  Informal practices could be paying direct attention to doing a daily task (for instance doing the dishes and placing all focus on this task like you were doing it for the first time.). For someone who gets very little time because of life’s demands, an informal practice can be worked into almost any task. For example, when having a conversation with someone, if you get distracted by other thoughts that arise, you can become aware of this distraction and bring your attention back to the conversation.

If your day allows for short formal practices, you can find a space and do what is called a Mindful Pause. Here you would set a timer for a desired time, it can be as little as taking two minutes, sitting in a comfortable position and focusing on the desired stimulus (for example, the breath, what you see, what you hear…). Longer formal practice can be a focused attention exercise that is guided by recording or self-guided over a longer period of time.  Some people may have difficulty engaging in formal practice for a variety of reasons, such as time, cultural values and past trauma. The focused attention exercises, particularly those focused on bodily sensations, can cause unwanted emotions to arise, which may be overwhelming to some people.

If you have questions or concerns about engaging in mindfulness practice, you can connect with a practitioner formally trained and licensed to provide mental health services, such as the clinicians at Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County.

 

Watch Royce’s video on understanding mindfulness: https://www.facebook.com/CFSSC/videos/1213972985405327/