Mindfulness, defined as “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations” is an evidence-based treatment that helps support people to live fully and clearly in the present without ruminating on the past or worrying about the future.
Mindfulness therapy is often used in conjunction with other therapeutic modalities and is grounded in the same principles as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) i.e. that your thought process dictates your feelings and your feelings dictate behavior. Mindfulness is especially helpful for people who have obsessive self-beliefs based on guilt and shame, poor self esteem and intrusive thoughts about past, unpleasant events.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
Through mindfulness, people can learn to focus on the moment, and their reactions and emotions surrounding just that moment. By doing this, they can focus on addressing what is impacting them right now and learn how to better cope with those situations that typically cause an unhealthy emotional reaction. Mindfulness techniques can be very effective for helping cope with anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness therapy can take place in individual or group settings and can help patients ground in the present. The most practical mindfulness techniques patients typically learn within a treatment program may include:
- Mindfulness Meditation: During a mindfulness meditation, people may count deep inhales and exhales or learn to enable intrusive thoughts to drift away without ruminating on them. Mindfulness meditations help people to remain in the “present” and not get distracted.
- Mindful Listening: Mindful listening is a learned practice where people attend to the content and meaning of communication. In this context, all conversation is met with intentional listening and focus. There is no verbal disruption or opinions expressed, just focused listening which leads to understanding and empathy.
- Mindfulness Walks: Mindfulness walk encompass a holistic sensory experience when you feel, smell, taste, hear and attend your physical surroundings. Attention to the world is intentional and grounded; sincere and moving.
What Is the Evidence Behind Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is empirically supported treatment in terms of having been proven in numerous scientific studies as effective. In addition, evidence demonstrates that incorporating mindfulness into other psychotherapies, such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) increases the effectiveness of those treatments, particularly for people who have co-occurring substance use disorder and depression or anxiety. Mindfulness is also used in treating impulsivity, phobias and eating disorders. It is helpful because it can help to stop negative thoughts from ruminating and resulting dangerous behavior. Mindfulness has been shown to greatly reduce stress for those diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Many patients who develop Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) also experience chronic pain. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to not only improve psychological and emotional well-being but a recent study provides evidence that it helps physical disorders as well in terms of relieving suffering for those who have experienced chronic migraine headaches.