Mindfulness: Powerful Self-Care for Your Mental Health
If you listen to the show, you’ve heard the guys say, “You should go to therapy.”
And maybe you should.
But whether you’re actively in talk therapy, used to do it, thinking about it, or feel like, Nah, I’m good on that, there’s something else you can do to take charge of your mental health…
Everyone stands to benefit from a little mental health self-care. Something you can do that doesn’t require an office visit or a trip to the pharmacy, is practice mindfulness.
My wife has been big into this for awhile now, but it took awhile before I latched on. Honestly, when I heard people talk about mindfulness and the whole being-present-in-the-moment thing, I wasn’t sure what they meant. Not really. And, sitting at my desk writing this, I have a hard time finding the words to properly and efficiently explain it, so…
I Googled it…
The Oxford Dictionary defines mindfulness (noun) two ways: First, “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” (Duh…) Second, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”
OK, the first one wasn’t what I was looking for, but the second one is perfect: “…focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations….”
Still doesn’t make sense?
That’s OK, a simple explanatory overview didn’t clear it up for me either. I wanted to know why people do it, and, more importantly, how people do it.
Dr. Eric Haseltine wrote an article for Psychology Today that highlighted several good points, one of them being people’s unawareness of mental health disorders. In terms of prevalance in the population, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, and PTSD all rank below…anxiety. But, using the visual below as a guide, you can see that anxiety is one of the lowest disorders researched online by the people who actually have said disorder.
In short, lots of people are walking around with unhealthy levels of anxiety, very few of which realize it. Feel it, sure, but knowing what they’re feeling? No. And how are you supposed to deal with a problem you don’t know you have?
Yes, therapy, too. Go to therapy.
But right now, start practicing mindfulness. I know, you’re still wondering…
How Do You Practice Mindfulness?
There are lots of ways to do it, but here’s a good starter package straight from a Harvard Health article on HelpGuide.org:
Basic mindfulness meditation – Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing or on a word or “mantra” that you repeat silently. Allow thoughts to come and go without judgment and return to your focus on breath or mantra.
Body sensations – Notice subtle body sensations such as an itch or tingling without judgment and let them pass. Notice each part of your body in succession from head to toe.
Sensory – Notice sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Name them “sight,” “sound,” “smell,” “taste,” or “touch” without judgment and let them go.
Emotions – Allow emotions to be present without judgment. Practice a steady and relaxed naming of emotions: “joy,” “anger,” “frustration.” Accept the presence of the emotions without judgment and let them go.
Urge surfing – Cope with cravings (for addictive substances or behaviors) and allow them to pass. Notice how your body feels as the craving enters. Replace the wish for the craving to go away with the certain knowledge that it will subside.
What does mindfulness do for you?
According to the the same Harvard Health article on HelpGuide, mindfulness is used to “help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.” Mindfulness is also used as part of a treatment plan for “depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
On a personal note, mindfulness helped my wife and I become better communicators, because we weren’t getting as angry or frustrated with each other in the heat of the moment. That’s not to say we don’t still get frustrated or angry, but we recognize it for what it is better in the moment, and we remove ourselves if we can’t stay above board.
My kids do it, too. Mindfulness—with the help of therapy—helped one of my kids go from having legit, full-blown panic-attacks a few times a month, to not having one, like, at all, the last few years.
So try it, already. What’ve you got to lose? Ya, know, besides your sanity…
Get started on finding a therapist. Check out Threads’ sponsor, BetterHelp.com, and talk with a licensed, professional therapist online.
For you parents out there, there’s a great book—in my opinion—if you’re interested in getting your kids into recognizing and dealing with big emotions and feelings. It’s called The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. There are also apps like Headspace, and countless guided meditations on YouTube.
Christopher Tallon is a writer, guitar tinkerer, and recovering middle school English teacher. He lives in west Michigan, and sometimes writes in the third person. You can find him on FaceBook, Instagram, or his Website.