Mindfulness and mental health
Updated: Mar 8
Cornerstones of Mental Health
Mindfulness and meditation are popular buzzwords in mental health circles, and for good reason. So often in the process of living our lives we are bombarded from every direction by things which can take us away from the present moment: phone calls, text messages, social media notifications, TV, Netflix, our computers and devices. We are even more prone to internal distractions: racing thoughts, fixations, fears, anxiety, and worries. Even positive things like daydreams and futurizing can bring us away from the here and now, and while the latter wouldn’t be characterized as a problem necessarily, they can still get in the way of us showing up in our lives in a way that is real and meaningful to us.
That said, what’s the big deal about the present moment, anyway? While mental health is a complex topic, there is a saying that is pertinent to the topic of mental health and mindfulness: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, then you are living in the present moment.” Who among us wouldn’t want a little more peace in their lives, especially when struggling with anxiety or depression?
Mindfulness and meditation are sometimes seen as spiritual practices, and they certainly can be. In the context of therapy, they are used as tools to increase our sense of wellbeing and mental health, and they can fit within a wide variety of belief systems and perspectives.
The good news is, these tools work – multiple reviews of the scientific literature have indicated a widespread benefit to the use of mindfulness meditation in therapeutic practices. But how exactly can it help us?
Benefits of Meditation and Mindfulness
Based on current reviews of empirical evidence, meditation and mindfulness is associated with:
Greater life satisfaction
Better ability to regulate emotions
Increase in cognitive flexibility and attention
Less distraction, dissociation, and ruminations
How to Use These Tools
Meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably, but for the purposes of this article we will outline two different practices. There are many different kinds of meditation techniques, and many different mindfulness practices. A qualified therapist can help you to find what might work best for you. In the meantime, try the practices outlined below and get a feel for mindfulness and meditation.
Keep in mind that when it comes to trauma and certain mental health conditions, meditation and mindfulness practices can bring some issues to the forefront of your consciousness. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be overwhelming or triggering. Likewise, if you experience a lot of pain in your body, certain meditation and mindfulness practices can be challenging. Use these practices responsibility, and if needed, with the guidance and supervision of a qualified professional.
Meditation of the Breath
Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down. Take a few moments to settle into your chosen posture. Set a timer for yourself. This isn’t a competition – you can set your timer to whatever you feel comfortable with. While many recommend periods of 10-20 minutes for meditation, that is not the starting line. You may begin with a time limit as small as thirty seconds. Practicing meditation is like working out a muscle – start small and work your way up.
Once you are settled and have started your timer, your job is simple. Focus on your breath coming in, and going out. You don’t need to change the way you are breathing at all, just focus on the sensation of your breath coming in, and your breath leaving.
Whenever you become distracted – and you will – simply note the distraction with the label “thinking”, and return your focus to your breath. Repeat until your meditation period is over. There is no win or lose here, and every meditation will be different for you. How distracted you are on any given day doesn’t matter – remember, you are building a muscle.
Mindfulness Grounding Technique
This can be used almost anywhere, anytime, and it can be especially helpful when we find ourselves with runaway thoughts, anxiety, and worry. If you do not possess one of the senses listed below, simply do what you can.
First, take a few deep breaths to begin the process of becoming aware of your body and environment. Then do the following:
Find 5 things you can see and note them without judgment. The texture of the wallpaper in front of you, or a cloud in the sky, or the lines on your palm. If judgments pop into your mind – like the wallpaper is ugly or the cloud is shaped like a pear – acknowledge and let them go, trying to focus on simply seeing the thing.
Get tactile with 4 things, focusing on your sense of touch. As before, engage with your sense of touch without judgment. You may feel the ground beneath your feet, a cushion beneath you, the feel of your own skin or hair, a sensation of wind. Move from each of the 4 things with intention and mindfulness.
Open your ears to 3 things you can hear. Again, try not to judge what you hear. It could be the sounds of distant traffic, the wind, neighbours next door, and even the space between sounds.
Find 2 things you can smell. If the air around you isn’t particularly fragrant, you can smell your own clothes, hair, or skin.
Discover 1 thing you can taste. Don’t feel like you need to go around licking strange objects to complete this task – is there an after-flavour of lunch, or the last drink you had? You can even become mindful of the taste of your own saliva.
If you’d like to learn more about how mindfulness can benefit and enrich your mental health, book a session with us here: