By Joan Swart, Psy.D.
Mindfulness helps reduce stress
Mindfulness is a concept that has been around for thousands of years as part of Eastern philosophy and spiritual practices. Followers have always recognized the power of a mindful attitude to improve emotional balance and inner peace. Psychologists in the West have eventually recognized the benefits of being mindful and have started to incorporate the principles and exercises into their own and their clients’ lifestyles. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and Buddhism practitioner, established mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques in America in the 1980s, which became increasingly popular in the next few decades.
Thoughts and feelings are accepted
So, what is mindfulness? In essence, mindfulness is a state of mind described as “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” or, in other words, an awareness of the presence in which each thought, feeling, or sensation is recognized, acknowledge, and accepted. It means that we don’t label or judge thoughts and emotions as bad, try to control them, or let them overwhelm our being. Sensations, even when unpleasant, are just allowed to be as they come and go naturally. There is no benefit to worrying about the future or regretting the past. By fully turning one’s attention to current experiences, opportunities are maximized, our self-compassion improves, and our relationships benefits.
Mindfulness cultivates self-compassion
By accepting our thoughts and feelings and not trying to change or avoid them, we also become more accepting and kind toward ourselves. Self-compassion is known to encourage compassion for others too. Compassion means to have the capacity to understand the nature of suffering and recognize that one is not separate from it. But, that is not all. Compassion also implies that we want to make an effort to alleviate the pain of others. That we behave in ways that are warm, generous, and considerate. This applies to ourselves too as we care about and have insight into our own difficulties and aspirations to grow and improve. It means that we don’t hold ourselves and others to harsh and unyielding standards but appreciate what it is to be human. It makes sense that this is an excellent basis from which to communicate.
Mindful communication is the core of a healthy relationship
Open and honest communication is the cornerstone of every close, trusting relationship. Added to an improved capacity for self-reflection and insight, mindfulness also involves greater attention to another person when we are interacting. We keenly observe others as they speak and listen reflectively to show that we are interested in what is being said. With mindful communication, we paraphrase and reflect back the message to the speaker so that there is no misunderstanding or confusion. We keep eye contact, don’t get distracted, and use body language that is confident, friendly, and inviting. As such, we connect with the other person from an attitude and mindset that is attentive, kind, and respectful.
Mindful communication is less me-centered
Interactions are less centered on the self and instead of only hearing what we want to hear, tuning out the rest, and focusing on our own needs and wants, we put ourselves in the other person’s perspective and show camaraderie. As a result, the discussion is more interactive and thoughtful, and, therefore, less me-focused and more accepting of other views. It emphasizes the qualities that each can bring to the engagement, such as kindness, acceptance, patience, hope, humor, and strength, helping us and our relationship to emerge enriched. And although mindfulness doesn’t always change life’s curveballs, including preventing conflicts and misunderstandings, it is a beacon of light to guide us back to calmer waters in an accepting and compassionate way.
Mindfulness skills can be learned and trained
Fortunately, a mindful attitude can be developed by regular easy exercises that take only a few minutes each day. A professionally designed program is an excellent way to get started.
Find out how mindful you already are with a short test.
Joan Swart, Psy.D., is a forensic psychologist, lecturer, and author of “Treating Adolescents with Family-Based Mindfulness” published by Springer in 2015. She is a business developer at Open Forest LLC. Open Forest LLC provides online psychoeducation and self-help programs aimed at improving many conditions, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and mindfulness.