• Brad Sprigg

Looking for that feeling you used to have when you could relax?

Updated: Oct 16, 2019


Reconnecting to your capacities may feel difficult. However, with the support of a professional counsellor you can find your resolve, make changes and learn new skills.


You may have heard of mindfulness but never tried it? It seems these days it is everywhere, all over the internet, lifestyle blogs, news feeds and even corporations are espousing the benefits of mindfulness practices. Given mindfulness’s recent resurgence over the last few years from an Eastern Philosophy of meditation practice to that of panacea for all Western civilisations ills, you could be forgiven for being suspicious that it is just another fad with little substance or benefit for you.


You may even be thinking that it will require a lot of money to find a teacher, learn a lot of strange terms, wear particular coloured loose fitting clothes, follow a lot of instructions, learn to chant in a particularly resonant way, have a special spot and time to do it, sit a particular way as you longingly wait for the promised results. Om!


In fact, the sort of mindfulness that counselling promotes does have its origins in Eastern Philosophy but is nothing like what I listed above. Anyone can learn mindfulness techniques quickly and easily.

Mindfulness is cited in the research as an established therapeutic technique and is commonly advanced by counsellors. It often forms part of a treatment regime to help improve the outlook for people suffering from the effects of stress, anxiety and depression.


Clearly then, if you can get through all the hype there is something about mindfulness that is helpful. But how can it help you and your situation?


What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a very basic set of principles involving mental and physical techniques that can be learned, practiced and incorporated into daily life. Practicing these principles and techniques does not need to be complicated, exercises can be simple and tailored to your individual needs now and developed as your mastery of the techniques grows over time.


Mindfulness, when used in the context of counselling to improve mental health and the promotion of individual wellbeing over time, can be defined as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally” [1].


Mindfulness has been adapted within the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to increase client’s psychological flexibility, which is “the ability to freely choose various ways of leading a vital and valued life” [2]. Mindfulness supports people's commitments with behaviour change and becoming comfortable with their uncomfortable thoughts, emotions and sensations to engage in their life worth living more fully.


How can mindfulness help me?

The purpose of mindfulness in ACT is to help focus attention on the present moment. Allowing you to notice thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations without getting pulled into the usual struggle with them. By practicing mindfulness, you may start to notice that thoughts can be just thoughts, and emotions can be just emotions and bodily sensations can be just that, and these need not be acted on automatically. By pausing and just noticing what happens when you pay attention mindfully, you may free up some space for you to make different choices in your day to day.


People who practice mindfulness notice that the exercises help them in a number of ways. They have reported various benefits including:

It helps me feel more relaxed.

Feeling more connected to myself.

Feeling less caught up in my day to day stresses and struggles.

A letting go, and a feeling of having more space for me and what’s important to me now.

It helps me feel more open to what is going on around me.

It helps me feel more engaged with the people who are important to me.


Mindfulness can help people with day to day stresses, work issues, general worries, anxiety, depression and other problems. It can also help with unlocking the processes associated with more complex issues of addictions, eating disorders, relationship problems, self-esteem issues, and other concerns.


How does it work?

All day, your mind is busy with ideas, thoughts and feelings, attending selectively and deciding whether action is required or not. This leads to more thoughts, which in turn leads to even more thoughts. And on it goes!


We often think of this as simple mental "chatter" that comes and goes. However, for some this becomes a constant stream of unrelenting thoughts, distractions containing old scripts, anxieties and compulsions, which add to our feelings of distress, worry or anger.


ACT offers mindfulness exercises and strategies to assist with paying attention in a particular way. Mindfulness exercises in ACT provide a focus in which to create a inner space for you to observe what is happening as you pay attention, rather than trying to change or control your thoughts and feelings. This space can allow you to pause and not engage in autopilot responses, opening up the possibility of seeing thoughts in a detached way like a casual observer, allowing for the possibility of making a different choice more suited to the life you want to live now and into the future. So, ACT mindfulness exercises introduce new possibilities for thinking about thinking; a moment to pause, a detached observer, the possibility of choosing differently and a focus to ground you should you get hooked or swept away by your thoughts or feelings. No need to spend all your energy on controlling or switching off your thoughts just notice them as you would a cloud passing overhead or a leaf floating down a stream.


Understanding this process of paying attention in a particular way or mindfully rather than trying to control or to change your thoughts is one of the keys to ACT. There are mindfulness exercises for centering your awareness, connecting to your breath, connecting to your five senses, observing your thoughts, accepting thoughts and feelings, for noticing change, for going beyond meaning and your intellectual mind and many more.


What ACT mindfulness exercises all have in common is that they are not attempting to “quiet the mind or use force or willpower to control the mind and its activities” [3].


Our minds are full of thoughts, feelings, sensations, worries, fantasies about the past or future, which is perfectly fine since this is what the brain does even during meditation. All the ACT mindfulness exercises ask of you is to take it as it comes and trust the process that paying attention in a particular way can do for your worries, anxieties and fears.


ACT mindfulness exercises are designed to help with common mental health issues but may not be appropriate therapy for everyone. It is recommended you talk with a mental health professional as a first step to see how ACT mindfulness might be helpful for you.


I invite you to contact me and take that first step to living your life worth living now and into the future.

#self-acceptance #lifestyle #valued living #mindfully #action-orientated #change #evidence based approach #counselling #mindfulness #stress

References

[1] Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Where ever you go, there you are: Mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York, NY: Hyperion.

[2] Zettle, R. (2007). ACT for depression: A clinician’s guide to using acceptance and commitment therapy in treating depression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

[3] Forsyth, J. & Eifert, G. (2016). The mindfulness & acceptance workbook for anxiety. (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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