Mindfulness as a Daily Survival Skill
Jennifer Forrister, Ed.S, MS, LPC, CPCS
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘mindfulness’ as the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis. Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing your mind.”
The practice of mindfulness is not new. It dates back centuries and has been practiced in various religious traditions through the practice of meditation and yoga. But mindfulness practice has practical applications that can be used off the mat or cushion. Learning skills that enable you to savor each bite of a delicious meal, lose yourself in a musical experience, bask in the visual pleasure of an amazing sunset, or simply be able to focus on a conference call without having your mind wonder or your thoughts race can create a sense of control and peace. It our current social reality, we are constantly overstimulated. We walk around with earbuds in our ears, phones in-hand, plant ourselves in front of the television, and have access to multiple news sources twenty-four hours a day. Our minds are full every moment. Too full. These constant experiences put our brains and senses on sensory and information overload. As a result, we as a society of individuals have lost the ability to just ‘Be.’ We aren’t able to just sit in silence with ourselves. We can’t handle being slowed down or even a fleeting moment of boredom. This constant overload lends itself to increased levels of anxiety, worry, fear, agitation, and general sense of discontentment. We are constantly looking for the next distraction, sometimes even if that distraction is negative.
The concept of mindfulness is not only used in spiritual traditions, but is also being applied in psychotherapy session to help people with learning to calm their minds and feel more in control of their emotional experiences as well as behaviors. Practicing mindfulness can reduce one’s need to ruminate on the “what ifs” and resist the urge to behave impulsively.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, referred to as DBT, was created by Marsha Linehan after her extensive research in the 1980s and 1990s. Linehan’s DBT grew out of her own personal suffering and struggle with mental illness. After suffering from severe social anxiety and isolation, self-harm, chronic feelings of emptiness, the urge to die, suicide attempts, and traumatic hospitalizations, she vowed as a young woman that she would get out of the hospital and help others with problems like hers. And she did just that. After years of study, Linehan used what she learned personally and through her education and research to help others who suffer with the darkest kinds of depression and who had a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Through the concepts and practices of mindfulness, radical acceptance, self-acceptance, non-judgmental perspectives, and practical skills for use in times of crisis, people have found relief from suffering and discovered ways to feel more in control of their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The use of DBT results in fewer suicide attempts, and increase in a sense of control, as well as fewer hospitalizations.
After being trained in DBT in 2004, I found that it has been the saving grace for many of my therapy clients. The skills learned are useful for anyone; not only those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Individuals struggling with panic attacks, anger and rage issues, anxiety disorders, depression, Bipolar Disorder, and anyone who struggles with a sense of control when in an emotional crisis can benefit.
Suffering is a result of pain + non-acceptance. Acceptance isn’t the same as approval. The resistance of pain causes prolonged suffering. We are naturally inclined to fight or resist pain. It is human nature. But it is this act of resisting, both physical and mental, that keep us stuck in a cycle of suffering. Learning skills to practice acceptance, letting go, and how to live in the present moment creates a path to peace and emotional freedom. And that feels pretty good to me!
Carey, Benedict. (2011, June 23). Expert in Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/23/health/23lives.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp
Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Mindful Staff. (2016, January 11). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. http://www.mindful.org/jon- zinn-defining-mindfulness/