Mindfulness is a must for Mental Health

Words by Clinical Psychologist Jenna Segall (to read more about her, click here!)

Have you ever had the experience where you are driving and suddenly you reached your destination, completely lost in thought, uncertain how you arrived there, and hoping you did not go through any red traffic lights along the way? Or have you ever had the experience where you were thinking about something, maybe planning an upcoming event or mulling over a conversation you had with somebody, and you realise that a whole lot of time has passed and completely escaped you?

We are so often living our lives in autopilot, in our own heads, planning, pondering, wondering, and worrying. This is hugely problematic however, because catastrophizing (i.e., excessive worry about the future) is significantly correlated with anxiety disorders and rumination (i.e.,

considerable regret about the past) is significantly related to depressive disorders. In a nutshell, constant thinking is not only detrimental to our mental health, but it also disconnects us from those who really matter and disengages us from our lives and the world around us.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is about paying full attention to the present moment.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), described mindfulness as:

1. Being fully present to one thing at a time,

2. On purpose, deliberately, and

3. Taking a non-judgemental, curious, naïve stance.

One of the most common myths about mindfulness is: The goal of mindfulness is to get rid of thoughts.

This is actually inaccurate and impossible! The brain’s function is to fire neurons, so its primary purpose is to think and problem solve. As human beings, we have approximately 70,000 thoughts a day. So the goal of mindfulness is not to get rid of our thoughts but rather to observe our thoughts and change the way we relate to them, so that even distressing thoughts are no longer disturbing.

I like to think that our minds are like snow globes after we shake them. We have a tonne of thoughts flying around, blocking our vision of the scene in front of us, and clouding our judgement. Mindfulness is not about cracking the snow globe open and removing all the snow from it. Rather, it is about noticing the chaos of the snow and knowing that soon the snow will settle at the bottom of the globe and the scene of chaos will soon be a scene of calm. This place of calm and stillness allows us to think coherently and see things as they are. Two things are reinforced here: 1. We are not trying to get rid of our thoughts but rather mindfulness is about observing them, and 2. The concept of impermanence; that all emotions and thoughts are changing and only last for a limited period of time. James Baraz’s definition of mindfulness summarises this eloquently:

“Mindfulness is simply, being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different. Enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will). Being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).”

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mental and emotional benefits: Physical and neurological benefits:
    • Elevates mood and enhances positive feelings such as peace, joy, content, harmony
    • Improves concentration, attention, and productivity
    • Promotes clarity of mind and perspective taking
    • Builds a resilience against illness and reduces chronic pain
    • Improves sleep
    • Increases grey matter in key brain regions (e.g., in the hippocampus that is the centre for memory)
    • Prevents shrinkage of the brain with age
Social and spiritual benefits: 6 simple tips to strengthen your mindfulness practice:
    • Enhances empathy, compassion, and gratitude
    • Promotes self-awareness and acceptance
    • Cultivates the ability to respond interpersonally rather than react impulsively
    • Encourages synchronicity, flow, and connection (to oneself, others, nature, the universe)
    1. Allocate one mundane task per day to mindfulness (e.g., washing dishes, showering, eating breakfast, brushing teeth).
    2. Practice every day – it is like any other skill, the more we practice the more competent we become at it.
    3. Start small by first allocating a short amount of time to your mindfulness practice, such as 2-minute intervals, and then gradually building up.
    4. Practice by describing your sensory experience, observing your thoughts coming and going, or noticing the emotions that arise in your body.
    5. Take a non-judgmental, open, and curious stance by observing any criticisms that may come up for you when the mind wonders. Know that this is normal!

Try online resources and guided mindfulness Apps, such as Insight Timer, Headspace, Calm