Making plans for your future and learning from your past mistakes are necessary part of our everyday life. However, the problem comes when we are too focused on the future, which tends to make us anxious, or overly focused on our past, which can tend to get us discouraged or depressed. The trick to amazing emotional health and happy life is in finding the right balance. Mindfulness helps you see and understand your thoughts and feelings as they really are, rather than giving them too much importance or misunderstanding them completely.
The technique of mindfulness is practiced by paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, noticing when and where your mind may wander and intentionally bringing it back. It has a very calming effect on your mind as it helps you realize that the present moment is not so bad because you are alive, you are breathing, even if you are uncomfortable and uncertain. Often, when we start feeling anxious or approach a triggering situation, shifting our pose into one of mindfulness, even for just a few seconds, can make a tremendous difference in how we feel. Our minds and bodies are much more connected than we think.
In addition, research (Burke 2009) clearly shows that practicing mindfulness on regular basis has many amazing benefits such as:
Increased ability to control your emotional state
Increased social skills
Increased working memory, planning, and organization
Increased calmness and relaxation
Increased quality of sleep
Increased anger management
Decreased test anxiety
Decreased symptoms of ADHD
Decreased negative emotions
Decreased anxiety and depression
One of my most favorite mindfulness technique that I often use with my clients is adapted from The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook, written by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey Wood, and Jeffrey Brantley. This technique, called Thought Defusion is extremely helpful in treatment of emotional distress. It will help you focus on and observe your thoughts without getting stuck on them. In other words, you can choose which thoughts to keep and which thoughts you want to let go. In order to complete this beneficial exercise, you will need to use your imagination. Your objective is to imagine or visualize your thoughts as pictures or words, floating away from you without analyzing them. You can picture this in any way you like, but here are some suggestions that seemed to be very effective.
- Imagine sitting in a field watching your thoughts float away on clouds
- See your thoughts written in a sand and then watch the waves wash them away
- Imagine your thoughts slowly floating away in bubbles
- Picture yourself driving a car and watching your thoughts pass by on a billboard
- Imagine sitting next to a tree and watching your thoughts floating down on leaves
- See your thoughts written on a board with a marker and being wiped away
If none of these ideas work for you, try to come up with your own. The important part is to let your thoughts be whatever they are without taking them apart or judging yourself from them. Just let them come and go. Read or record the instructions below before you do this exercise. At first, you should take about 3 to 5 minutes to complete this exercise; however, our goal is to slowly prolong this time to up to 10 minutes. So, if you are doing this by yourself, make sure you have your timer ready.
Make yourself very comfortable sitting down or laying down in a place you will not be disturbed by any noises or other people for a few minutes. Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing and take a few long, slow breaths in and out. Now, picture yourself in one of the situations that you chose to watch your thoughts come and go. It does not matter where you are. On the beach, in the mountains, by a stream, or in a room, as long as you do your best to really imagine yourself there. When you are comfortable being in that place, focus on the thoughts that you are having.
Don’t try to stop them coming up even if you don’t like them. Just watch them arise and disappear. It does not matter what kind of thoughts they are, whether they are small or big, important or silly, watch them come and float away. Remember not to get stuck on them. Just let them go. If your thoughts come quickly or two or more at a time, just let them all arise and float away. When your timer goes off, take in few more slow, long breaths before opening your eyes and bringing your focus back to the room.
This is a rather easy and yet very effective and powerful technique. Please email me with any questions or comments. Let me know if this is beneficial to you.