There are two things that can stop you from enjoying the present moment: ruminating about your past and worrying about your future. Do you find yourself thinking about what you could have done differently or what could go wrong? Staying present isn’t easy, especially if you’ve been through trauma or struggle with anxiety. But practicing mindfulness can help you live a more fulfilled, happy life by becoming fully absorbed in your experiences and breaking unhelpful patterns of thought.
Mindfulness is a state of awareness where you are focused on what is happening here and now. You acknowledge and accept everything that you are feeling physically and emotionally. It allows you to observe your thoughts without being controlled by them (Follette et al., 2006). Keep watching to find out how to unlock the power of mindfulness, and how it can change your life for the better.
*Disclaimer: This video briefly discusses the psychological effects of trauma, which may be triggering for some viewers. Mindfulness is not a solution for all mental illnesses, and the information presented in this video should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.
1. Mindfulness increases psychological flexibility
When you take a step back and notice your thoughts in a non-judgemental way, you can temporarily deactivate neural pathways that were formed from your past experiences. As a result, you’ll have more psychological flexibility. In other words, you can respond based on what is happening in the present moment instead of automatically reacting the same way you have in the past. This awareness helps you respond more adaptively in difficult circumstances. In fact, mindfulness meditation has been proven to activate parts of the brain that help with adapting to high-stress situations (Davis & Hayes, 2011).
To illustrate this concept further, let’s use an example. Sarah is having a disagreement with her partner. Her first instinct is to get angry and defensive because in the past, arguments with her ex always got heated quickly. But instead of reacting automatically, she becomes aware of her thoughts and notices how they are affecting her emotions. She then brings her attention back to her partner and focuses on what they’re saying. She listens intently and responds calmly. Sarah can communicate better because practicing mindfulness helped her remain present and regulate her emotions. Watch until the end of the video to find out more about how mindfulness can improve your relationships!
2. Mindfulness stops the avoidance behavioural loop
If you’ve ever been through a traumatic experience, you might be familiar with the rebound effect. It occurs when you try to suppress a thought or avoid a situation, but the opposite ends up happening: your thought comes back even more frequently and intrusively. The rebound effect leads to a behavioural loop where you try harder to avoid the thought, and it comes back stronger each time. Research suggests that mindfulness is beneficial in trauma therapy because it helps clients let go of fear and acknowledge their thoughts instead of suppressing them, which stops the avoidance behavioural loop (Follette et al., 2006).
One technique that is suggested for clients in trauma therapy is repeatedly thinking about an image that brings them comfort as they go about their day. When someone has trauma, they might have a heightened sense of arousal even if they are not in a dangerous situation. By continuously focusing on an image that relaxes them, they can increase feelings of safety and decrease negative arousal (Goodman & Calderon, 2012).
3. Mindfulness reduces habitual worrying
Habitual worrying occurs when you feel anxious automatically and repetitively, even if you are not in a threatening situation. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce habitual worrying and test anxiety. There are two main characteristics of mindfulness that are the helpful in managing anxiety. Number one is accepting the thoughts you have and looking at them with curiosity instead of judgement. Number two is the ability to redirect your attention away from your internal thoughts and to your surroundings. These practices address the harmful aspects of habitual worrying: having negative thoughts about the future, and refusing to accept these thoughts (Verplanken & Fisher, 2013).
Here’s another example you might relate to. James is sitting in his classroom about to take an exam. He’s feeling extremely nervous and has all sorts of anxious thoughts running through his mind. What if I fail? Then I won’t get a good mark in this course. I won’t get into the school I want, and I’ll never be able to have a successful career. He decides to do a mindfulness exercise. He imagines all his negative thoughts as clouds floating through the sky, just passing by. He doesn’t react or judge them at all. He just observes them and accepts that they are there, without believing them or taking them to heart. He doesn’t try to control or change them. He puts distance between himself and his anxious thoughts, instead of identifying with them (Nejad, 2021). Then, he focuses on his immediate surroundings: the desk in front of him, the feeling of his chair against his back, and the sound of his classmates talking. After a few moments, James feels relaxed, present, and ready to tackle the exam! Try practicing this exercise yourself the next time you feel worried.
4. Mindfulness can improve your relationships
Remember Sarah’s conversation with her partner? Her situation is just one example of how mindfulness can improve communication in relationships. Studies show that people who scored higher in mindfulness are more satisfied with their relationships, better at dealing with conflict, and more empathetic. They also have less anxiety and anger during an argument, allowing them to respond compassionately instead of getting caught up in their emotions (Davis & Hayes, 2011).
Mindful relating is a technique you can use to form deeper relationships. To practice it, try to remain focused on the conversation and keep bringing your attention back to it when your mind wanders. You might notice yourself getting distracted by self-conscious thoughts. Do they like me? Am I saying the right thing? Or maybe your attention drifts to all the things on your to-do list for that day. When this happens, notice it and redirect your attention back to the present moment (Tremaine, 2021). Focus on the person’s body language, the emotions they’re expressing, and the connection you feel to them.
The more you practice mindfulness, the better you’ll get at it and the more you will benefit. Did you know that your brain can rewire itself when you have new experiences? Because of this ability, also known as neuroplasticity, you can change the structure of your brain by practicing mindfulness regularly. Over time, you may find that staying in the moment is easy and you’ll start to do it automatically! (Davis & Hayes, 2011)
Do you struggle with staying present? How do you practice mindfulness in your own life? Share your thoughts in the comments section! If you want to learn more about techniques that improve mental health, don’t forget to subscribe and hit the like button.
Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48(2), 198–208. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0022062
Follette, V., Palm, K. M., & Pearson, A. N. (2006). Mindfulness and trauma: implications for treatment. Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 24(1), 45–61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10942-006-0025-2
Goodman, R., & Calderon, A. (2012). The Use of Mindfulness in Trauma Counseling. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34(3), 254–268. https://doi.org/10.17744/mehc.34.3.930020422n168322
Nejad, L. (2021). Mindfulness Of Thoughts As Clouds In The Sky. Insight Network, Inc. Copyright (c) 2021. https://insighttimer.com/lnejad/guided-meditations/mindfulness-of-thoughts-as-clouds-in-the-sky
Tremaine, L. (2021, April 9). The Skill of Mindful Relating. Leightremaine.Com. http://leightremaine.com/the-skill-of-mindful-relating/
Verplanken, B., & Fisher, N. (2013). Habitual Worrying and Benefits of Mindfulness. Mindfulness, 5(5), 566–573. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-013-0211-0