Mindfulness. We hear this term bandied about a lot. But what does it really mean, and how does it help us? There are many definitions of mindfulness, from being in the moment to focusing on the what is and not the what if. We will explore this term and ways to become mindful.
A good definition of mindfulness is: being in the moment and learning to accept things as they are without needing to take away or add something. This is not a state that is easily achievable and will take a lot of practice for most people. The end goal is ultimately to reduce negative thought patterns and to ruminate on thoughts that are not particularly helpful. Reducing ruminations and ideas of what if can actually help us reduce anxiety.
In my practice, I see people every day who struggle with anxiety. Some of these individuals have such severe cases of anxiety they experience panic attacks. Panic attacks can appear to someone who has never had one as experiencing a life-threatening event, like a heart attack, leading many first-time panic attack sufferers to visit their local emergency rooms. This can be a terrifying experience for most people, which is why one of the criteria of Panic Disorder is the fear of re-experiencing such an attack. So, when people begin therapy having experienced a panic attack, they never wish to experience another attack again!
People with anxiety tend to worry about things that have not happened and will probably never happen. They spend a lot of time trying to predict the future or anticipate everything that could go wrong in a situation. Imagine a way of thinking that could keep them focused on the present and help them live in the world as it is, not as it could be. Assisting these individuals to change their thinking patterns and embrace mindfulness is integral to helping them overcome their anxiety and panic as we allow them to accept that change only happens in the present.
One of my favorite techniques to teach patients when first learning mindfulness is to count from one to ten. The goal is to make it to ten with their minds free from thought. If a thought enters, they must continue to start over until they reach the number ten. This is an excellent technique for people who have difficulty ruminating at night, right before bedtime. Clearing the mind helps the body relax, making it easier to sleep.
I will also encourage anxious patients to become familiar with their bodily sensations as they tend to over-focus on these sensations during moments of high anxiety and panic. I will urge them to practice guided meditations that take them through their bodies and help them retrain their breathing, as shallow breathing can cause more anxiety. The idea is to help them learn to breathe from their stomach.
Once a patient begins to accept that some things are out of their control and they are unable to anticipate everything that could go wrong, they will start to see a lessening of their worrying thought patterns and more acceptance that the world is at it is. This will aid significantly in reducing the constant worry they experience and help lead them to better functioning.
Mr. Steven Rego is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works with individuals and couples. Mr. Rego uses an eclectic mix of therapeutic modalities like EMDR and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help get at the root of psychological issues. Mr. Rego specializes in trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and OCD. He also works extensively with couples.