Today you’re going to learn why is mindfulness important for mental health.
The concept of being mindful or indeed mindfulness meditation is an idea that has really caught on and is an idea being used by counselors and psychotherapists of all types to help people gain calm and emotional stability in their lives.
It certainly is important and beneficial to slow down in the day sometimes; perhaps taking fifteen minutes here and there to relax and step back. By regularly doing this we can bring down stress levels thus benefitting our mental and physical well being.
Why Is Mindfulness Important
In this article I want to talk about what mindfulness actually is and how mindfulness can help in the moment as, for example, a fear provoking situation is actually unfolding. I also want to talk about how you might actually switch into mindfulness when you feel you need to in other everyday situations. This creates calm and detachment when you really need it in the very moment.
If we think about everyday consciousness we can see that many of us go around on ‘automatic pilot’. We may, for example, be queuing up waiting to use a cash machine but our mind is elsewhere, often preoccupied with wasteful or negative thoughts concerning roles and responsibilities we have to fulfill. We are ‘asleep at the wheel’ so to speak: – there in body though not in mind!
To a certain extend this is fine of course and even actually highly adaptive. After all if we couldn’t think of future possibilities then we would never create anything nor never be able to plan or take action to avoid the potential disasters we can envisage by leaving the present moment and travelling in our minds to a possible future.
Evolving the capacity to travel imaginatively into the future and the capacity to reflect on the lessons of the past was a great leap forward for humankind. We could imagine things being different and with this imagination we could build civilization, art and science and cultivate all kinds of ideas.
Reflection and imagination however are tools and just like any tool they can be misused. So too much reflection on the past can stop us from enjoying the present or constructively planning for the future, especially if we over focus on sad or scary past events. Likewise too much focus on the future can obstruct what we need to do now because the frightening stuff that we imagine lies ahead can fuel a sense of hopelessness, helplessness and fear.
All psychological difficulties, regardless of how they were originally caused, are maintained through misuse of the imagination. From depression to paranoia, to jealousy and anger, typical misuse patterns are introspecting negatively about the past, dreading the future, or imagining what other people who aren’t even present with us in the here and now are thinking about us.
The tool of being able to think beyond your immediate reality needs to be controlled so that it can be properly used when it is really needed.
For example being able to think about why you are exercising or what you hope to achieve through exercise is a great tool for imagining the rewards that increased fitness will bring while you are actually exercising or planning to exercise. This is a good use of living in the future.
Similarly, for example, recalling how you got financially stung in the past when asked to lend money to a certain unreliable person can equip you to make better decisions in future.
The ideal is therefore not to always live in the moment as this is not what being enlightened really is.
None the less, often it is really healthy to release yourself from the mental chatter in your head and to totally immerse yourself in the present moment thus forgetting the future and the past.
Of course in a real sense all you ever actually have is right here and right now. Mindfulness is simply keeping your attention in the present moment without judging it as happy or sad, as good or bad. It is a state of unattached being in which thoughts and feelings are not so much grappled with, repressed or defeated but simply allowed to pass by and eventually to recede altogether. It is an attitude of acceptance of the current moment for what it is.
So when you are mindful you are not in a state of fear or in a state of hope. You are not wishing things were different. You are in a calm and spontaneous state of consciousness merely accepting and observing, therefore more likely to see what is actually happening free from the clouds of imagination which all too often can result in us over reacting.
When we are mindful in a situation we remain calm and observe more objectively allowing us to freely choose our response rather than just react. When you see more clearly; free of bias, fear, hope and calculation you often find you have a greater sense of what needs to be done in a situation or even whether anything can indeed be done right in that moment.
Sometimes the best response is to do nothing at all there and then wait for a while to reflect and reconsider your response.
Imagine you are someone who dreads public speaking and you are about to give a very important speech to 600 people. You have prepared and rehearsed for months but are still consumed with terror. For you the present moment isn’t there at all because your entire focus is on the immediate future: – the speech that hasn’t happened yet!
Think now what it would be like to be mindful in this situation: – just aware of your breathing; in and out, letting thoughts and feelings drift away: – now is all there is. Even though you know you are about to present in ten minutes time, now is all there is.
As well as observing your breath you might notice the colours in the room around you right here and now or the way in which a shaft of light leans down through a window or indeed anything else that is in the here and now.
So how can you do this in the moment? Well, the more you practice mindfulness when you don’t actually need it in a calm moment, the easier it will be to recapture a sense of mindfulness when you are caught up in the chaos of life.
Here are five tips to help you be more mindful when you really need it, in the moment:-
1. Decide you need to be mindful and detached and now is an appropriate time to be so
2. Consciously focus on the way that you are breathing. Observe your own breath moving in and out like someone on a beach watching the waves coming in and out
3. Start to watch and label your own emotions without trying to alter them. Say to yourself for example: – “I can see resentment” or “I can see fear” or even “I can see calm detachment”.
The part of you that can see these states is sometimes called the observing self and is a powerful psychological tool. Let the feelings be there and at the same time notice how, because you are not associating with them, you can really feel the separation between those emotions and the essential you and just let them pass.
4. Imagine looking at the scene as if you are quite outside of yourself without making any judgment of the situation. Get a sense of being external to and beyond the moment. Watch without curiosity and with total calm, observing what happens, not trying to keep hold of any feeling but just letting it all go like seeing lilies floating past on the surface of a stream.
5. Decide whether anything you have observed in this state of mindfulness leads you to take any particular action.
To summarise and conclude:
Mindfulness is an almost meditative state of mind in which we are entirely focused on the here and now and detached from both the emotional and cognitive content of our minds.
It is not desirable never to use of imagination in order to learn from the past or project possibilities into the future, however sometimes freeing oneself from regrets and fears and being in the here and now is desirable especially if you wish to remain cool and calm.
Although mindfulness can be described as a meditative state, experiencing it is not limited to meditation. With practice we can readily access this state in everyday life. You can appear entirely awake and active to others even as you remain internally mindful.
I want to thank you for taking the time to read my article about why is mindfulness important. I sincerely hope its contents have been a good help to you.