Mindfulness is the practice of being intentionally present in the moment. It seems to be something that we would do all the time, yet, how many times have you put special effort into something only to miss it? For example, making a special meal and not taking the moment to truly enjoy the experience due to watching television, reading, or even being a good host. Multi-tasking is a skill set that we are expected to participate in more and more in our society. Interestingly enough, people who multi-task are not as productive as people who mindfully do one task at a time.
Mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn describes mindfulness as, “paying attention to the present moment with intention while letting go of judgment as if our lives depend on it.” In mindful practice, rumination about past hurts or difficulties and projecting these (and other worries) on the future is called Time Travel and is known as the ‘fast path to misery.’ If we logically think about it, the moment we have, right here, right now is all we have. If we miss this moment we are, in a way, missing out life as it happens.
So why mindfulness and what the heck does it have to do with mental health?
Research has shown that mindfulness can reduce cell damage to possibly lengthen our lives, improve immune system function and reduce stress among other benefits. It can also improve concentration, improve mood, decrease anxiety and reduce stress among other benefits. As Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. states in Compassion Matters (March 6, 2013), “mindfulness is an incredible tool to help people understand, tolerate and deal with emotions in healthy ways.” Through mindful practice, we learn to better experience how our minds work. We also learn to better understand and manage feelings and thoughts rather than letting thoughts and feelings control our lives.
Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. was one of the first to develop therapeutic interventions based on mindful practice. She developed Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) with proven positive results. It is proven to help with people who struggle with personality disorders, bi-polar disorder, depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders.