In this section you will find a variety of Mindfulness strategies that you might find useful in helping you to notice distress (worry, sadness, hurt, pain, anger, loneliness, etc) when it is happening rather than having to distract yourself from these feelings – because, of course, distraction can only last for so long and eventually the feelings come back – or the fear that they will overwhelm you.
Distress doesn’t just happen in your head – yes, there are difficult and painful thoughts, but these are always accompanied by emotions and bodily sensations. Mindfulness practice allows you to be able to identify, tolerate and even reduce some of these difficult, painful and even frightening thoughts, feelings and sensations – it gives you back some mastery over them.
Rather than feeling that you are being pushed around by your feelings and thoughts you learn to be able to have some agency over them.
So what is this thing called “Mindfulness”? Below are some definitions;
- The awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment to moment” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003).
- “The non-judgmental observation of the ongoing stream of internal and external stimuli as they arise.” (Baer, 2003).
- “Keeping one’s complete attention to the experience on a moment to moment basis” (Martlett & Kristeller, 1999).
Put simply, Mindfulness is as simple as becoming aware of your here and now experience, both internally and in the external world around you. It gives you a space in the present moment to be able to more safely deal with the distressing and painful memories of things that might have happened to you in the past and to also be able to look at and plan for the future, even when you might have fearful thoughts about things that haven’t yet happened, from a secure position of knowing that you are in the present moment. In fact, we are never NOT in the present moment – we just lose track of that fact quite often.
Sometimes it is easier to understand something in terms of what it is NOT. Here are some examples of MindLESSness:
- Breaking things, spilling things, clumsiness, accidents because of carelessness, inattention or thinking about something else.
- Failing to notice subtle or not-so-subtle feelings of physical discomfort, pain, tension etc.
- Forgetting someone’s name as soon as you hear it.
- Listening to someone with one ear while doing something else at the same time.
- Getting so focussed on goals that I lose touch with what I am doing right now.
- Getting lost in my thoughts and feelings.
- Being preoccupied with the future or the past.
- Eating without being aware of eating.
- Having periods of time where you have difficulty remembering the details of what happened – running on autopilot.
- Reacting emotionally in certain ways – feeling like an emotion just “came out of nowhere”.
- Daydreaming or thinking of other things when doing chores.
- Doing several things at once rather than focussing on one thing at a time.
- Distracting yourself with things like eating, alcohol, pornography, drugs, work.
If you do some or even most of these things at times, then you are probably a normal member of the human race.
Recent research is indicating that with as little as 20 minutes of Mindfulness practice daily, the brain actually changes – the part of the brain that send messages of anxiety and distress slows down and the part that sends messages of calmness and comfort to the body gets more active. So this stuff is not just a sugar pill – it actually does make a difference. You don’t have to do it all the time, but once you practice some of the strategies we have made available on this website then you can adjust and modify them, or make up your own, and incorporate them into your daily routine. Like any new skill, they need to be practiced and it is best to practice them BEFORE you really need them so that they are familiar to you.
We have provided a number of downloadable Mindfulness exercises in this section. You can download them to a CD or straight to an iPod or MP3 player. Use the ones that seem most helpful to you – after using the recordings for a while you may find that it is easier to just practice mindfulness without them. You might find you are developing your own Mindfulness strategies that work well for you.