Mindfulness is a modern reworking of ancient meditation traditions and Eastern Philosophy. It is designed to help manage day to day difficulties by regaining control of the mind.
In difficult situations such as when a loved one is very ill or we are approaching an anxiety provoking situation (e.g. a job interview) or someone makes us upset, we may experience very strong emotions e.g. sadness, anxiety or anger in the above situations. Sometimes these emotions incapacitate us by overwhelming us or lasting a very long time. Unhelpful thoughts may accompany these emotions such as “I’ll never get over this” or “I must be stupid if I’m so scared of this exam”. Such thoughts are often believed uncritically and tend to perpetuate the strong emotions so that we are no longer in control of our minds and we can’t cope.
The aim of mindfulness therapy is to help you learn to be aware of your thoughts and bodily sensations and in so doing be able to better cope with day to day emotions and problems.
What may happen in a mindfulness session?
The first step in mindfulness therapy is to become more aware of the unhelpfulness of negative thoughts. You may be encouraged to reflect on a difficult situation as it is happening or soon after. Similarly you may be encouraged to stay with an upsetting emotion for some length of time so that you can become more familiar with it and perhaps avoid the need to bring a lot of resources to fighting it off time after time. In essence the aim is to allow you to have a different, easier relationship with problematical thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. The result of this is an increase in well-being, more control over your own mind as you spend less time dealing with difficulties and more resources for important activities. Often difficulties can disappear altogether.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
Your mind is like any other part of your being, there are benefits from understanding how it works and you can train it to work better. Specifically a mindfulness practice has the following benefits:
- Stability of mind – maintaining your mind in an alert clear space rather than at the two extremes of a dull or agitated mind.
- Flexibility of mind – the ability to shift your mind to whatever object you choose, rather than having it bounce haphazardly between a number of issues
- Self-awareness – being aware of the contents of your mind and understanding the typical patterns of your mind
- Acting rather than reacting – Becoming less reactive, e.g. when you are angry and choosing how you will act.
It’s not called a practice for nothing. Like any other form of therapy real change will require hard work and commitment, in this case a commitment to maintain your practice throughout the week outside of the therapy sessions.
How does it work?
While most of what we achieve is by “doing”, mindfulness achieves its ends by “not doing,” simply by observing. It seems to achieve its success by allowing us to see our thoughts and emotions as just thoughts and emotions not something to rule our lives or believe uncritically. Thoughts like “I must be stupid” are subtle and we generally believe them uncritically. By being mindful of our thoughts we gradually get the idea that they are just thoughts that we are having and there is no need to believe them uncritically. Similarly with a feeling like “anger” we start to realize that it is a feeling that is currently strong within us but no more than that, we currently have anger, but it doesn’t define us and it will pass. We stop identifying with the thoughts and emotions. Our mind ceases to be in the control of strong feelings and thoughts and slowly comes under our own control.
I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts.
I have bodily sensations but I am not my bodily sensations.
I have feelings but I am not my feelings
Anxiety is defined as nervousness, apprehension, and self-doubt that may or may not be associated with real-life stressors. Everyone experiences some level of anxiety periodically, but when feelings of dread and worry are unfocused, overwhelming, recurring, and not directly linked to stressful events, anxiety can leave a person severely impaired.
Symptoms, Signs, and Related Conditions
Anxiety symptoms include obtrusive, obsessive, worried thoughts, confusion and difficulty concentrating, pacing or restlessness, irritability, frustration, and despair. A person with anxiety may feel tense, with uncomfortable physical sensations such as trembling, sweating, a racing heartbeat, nausea, and difficulty breathing. The severe and sudden onset of such symptoms is often indicative of a panic attack. Anxiety can also lead to headaches, insomnia, digestive problems, and lightheadedness. Anxiety is at the root of many mental health conditions, including panic attacks and phobias, and it is often directly correlated with other conditions, such as obsessions and compulsions, posttraumatic stress, and depression. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM), lists the following mental health issues as anxiety disorders:
- separation anxiety
- selective mutism
- specific phobias
- social anxiety
- medication/substance-induced anxiety
- generalized anxiety
How Does Anxiety Develop?
Anxiety, not unlike the fight, flight, or freeze response, is a survival mechanism that allows people to protect themselves in order to avoid suffering, but sometimes a person repeatedly and unnecessarily experiences extreme levels of the fear and worry associated with anxiety and feels helpless to alleviate the symptoms.
A person’s predisposition toward anxiety is based both in biology and environment. In other words, anxious behaviors may be inherited, learned, or both. For example, research demonstrates that anxious children are likely born to anxious parents, but those parents may also model anxious tendencies, such as avoiding or fearing potential threats, that then instill the same fear and avoidant behaviors in their children. Anxiety can also develop as a result of unresolved trauma that leaves a person in a heightened physiological state of arousal; when this is the case, certain experiences may reactivate the old trauma, as is common for people experiencing posttraumatic stress (PTSD).
Because anxiety can interfere with relationships, sleeping patterns, eating habits, work, school, and routine activities, anxiety is one of the most common reasons people seek therapy, and effective therapy can significantly reduce or eliminate symptoms associated with anxiety in a relatively short time, allowing a person to resume regular activities and regain a sense of control. The type of therapy that is most often recommended for the treatment of anxiety due to its demonstrated effectiveness is cognitive behavioral therapy, although most forms of therapy are well suited to addressing anxiety.
Rather than treating symptoms alone, as medications do, psychotherapy aims to identify and address the source of the anxiety. The self-reflective process of therapy helps people to understand, unravel, and transform anxiety and learn self-soothing techniques to use if anxiety flares up again. As therapist and client, we will collaborate on a treatment plan, which may include other therapy treatments and lifestyle adjustments to help relieve anxiety such as meditation, stress-management and relaxation techniques, self-care, and exercise.
Trauma can create great distress for an individual, from feelings of anxiety to fear and avoidance of potential stress in life. This can be quite crippling, although does not have to be that way forever. Through the use of EMDR, we can address major traumas, as well as chronic childhood trauma to unlock the hold they can have on you. When that occurs, it can help create peace and joy that a person never thought was possibe. Please ask for a consultation regarding this treatment.
EMDR therapy is recognized as an effective form of trauma treatment in numerous practice guidelines worldwide. In the US, this includes organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association and Department of Defense. More than twenty randomized studies support the effectiveness of the therapy in the treatment of PTSD. Further, more than twenty randomized studies have demonstrated positive effects of the eye movements.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a comprehensive, integrative psychotherapy approach. It contains elements of many effective psychotherapies in structured protocols that are designed to maximize treatment effects. These include psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, interpersonal, experiential, and body-centered therapies.
EMDR psychotherapy is an information processing therapy and uses an eight phase approach to address the experiential contributors of a wide range of pathologies. It attends to the past experiences that have set the groundwork for pathology, the current situations that trigger dysfunctional emotions, beliefs and sensations, and the positive experience needed to enhance future adaptive behaviors and mental health. For more information on EMDR and its effectiveness, go to www.emdria.org