While there has been much written about mindfulness since it was introduced as a third wave cognitive behavioural therapy in the UK almost a decade ago, it is often still thought of as the ability to simply "zone out". However, mindfulness actually requires the opposite - paying attention to the present moment, noticing emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations and being aware of our actions. It is common for our minds to become caught up with the past or future, mindfulness teaches us to become aware when this happens.
While this may sound tricky to achieve, there is actually a structured process to learning mindfulness. This means that people can be taught the techniques in a number of different ways from face-to-face sessions to therapy held over the internet.
As a cognitive behavioural therapist with almost 30 years experience, I often incorporate mindfulness into my sessions at Ieso Digital Health. We deliver mindfulness using online talking therapy where a patient can interact one-on-one over an internet-enabled device, such as a tablet or smartphone with a British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP) accredited therapist. This means therapy sessions can be held anywhere with an internet or wifi connection and at a time and place convenient to the patient.
Through written communication we talk through the process of mindfulness and begin to practice a number of exercises that enable people to become more aware of thoughts or feelings that can impulsively lead to unworkable behavioural reactions. Noticing thoughts, feelings and emotions, in the present moment, can enable us to make significant changes.
Mindfulness can be useful in many everyday situations. Present moment focus can help us pay more attention to knee jerk reactions that we sometimes later regret. For example, it is not unusual to feel angry when another motorist cuts across our path and drives recklessly. If we get caught up with the thoughts and feelings that accompany a situation like this we can act impulsively. Mindfulness practice can teach us to be more aware of thoughts and feelings and the urges that can result from these. We can then make a more mindful choice about what how we act.
Mindfulness - Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
A recent report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shows more than 105 million working days are lost due to employee stress - costing UK employers over £1.24 billion a year. Studies have found that mindfulness programmes, where participants are taught mindful practices across a series of weeks, can bring about reductions in stress and improve mood.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has been used for almost 40 years and has been used to help alleviate not only stress but also to help those with chronic pain. In this instance, mindfulness is used to enable people to notice how their body reacts to pain, how their mind reacts to pain and how we are hard wired to fight and tense up around pain. Often these instinctive reactions only serve to intensify pain. Learning to reduce this struggle can really help people to work with their pain in a way that enables them to their lives in a way that is more meaningful for them.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy was developed more recently and teaches people with a history of recurrent depressive episodes to use mindfulness to reduce the likelihood of experiencing another severe episode of depression.
This type of therapy is best suited to those who have suffered recurrent depressive episodes. Many patients will have had traditional CBT first before we they try MBCT. Generally delivered in a group scenario, MBCT can also be delivered one-on-one with successful results.
Mindful treatment sessions focus on getting the patient to notice bodily sensations, noises, stimuli and thoughts. As those suffering depression can easily get caught up with negative automatic thoughts, negative predictions or regrets about the past Learning to become aware of these phenomenon, in the present moment can help a person make more workable choices that can reduce the likelihood of the depression worsening. There is no need for patients to try and change the thoughts they experience, argue with them or judge them; rather just observe. Essentially it's about putting the mind in a different mode in which we see each thought as simply another mental event and not an objective reality.
Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT)
Compassion focused work incorporates an element of mindfulness. While most people are good at being compassionate towards others going through a tough time they will typically find it difficult to be compassionate towards themselves. Mindfulness in CFT teaches us how to identify negative thoughts about ourselves and notice these thoughts are nothing but a story that our mind regularly comes up with and that we need to give ourselves a break and some compassion. If we can notice these thought patterns as they happen it presents a great opportunity to change our behaviours.
Incorporating Mindfulness everyday
Mindfulness takes practice. Some people put time aside to formally practice mindfulness, like meditation, however it can easily be practised throughout the day during everyday activities. You can bring mindful awareness to a number of things that we often do without thinking such as eating, washing the dishes, cooking, taking a shower, walking, driving in the car or listening to music.
The good news is the more it's practised the easier it becomes to bring mindful awareness to other parts of your life to manage stress, depression and anxiety.