Mindfulness & Mental Health
With the recent passing of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, the topic of mindfulness has been top of mind for many people. Thich Nhat Hanh, a native of Vietnam who was exiled from the country due to his peace activism in the 1960s, did much to bring the philosophy and practice of mindfulness to the West. A commitment to mindful living is now something to which many people from all walks of life aspire.
And that’s a good thing, because mindfulness practice can have a positive effect on the practitioner’s mental well-being. Let’s take a closer look at mindfulness and its many benefits.
The Gift of Being Present
So often, our minds seem to be filled to bursting with rushing thoughts going every which way. We find ourselves ruminating about past mistakes or regrets. Or we let our thoughts dwell on worries about the future. Sometimes, paying attention to our thoughts is like watching a tennis match with regrets on one side of the net and worries on the other. The ball of our thoughts whizzes back and forth between the two, leaving us sad, stressed, and more. There is no winner in this metaphorical tennis match of thoughts.
When we are being mindful, however, we focus our attention on the moment in which we are actually living. We stay present in the moment, enjoying what is happening right now rather than following our thoughts into the past or future.
Simple Practice, Significant Results
So, how do you go about staying present in the moment? The basics of mindfulness practice are actually pretty simple. All you need is a little time to yourself and a willingness to give it a try.
A typical mindfulness exercise involves sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. A few deep breaths—in through the nose and out through the mouth—can get you started. You might spend a few moments focusing on each of your senses and paying attention to how your body is feeling. And then you focus on the rising and falling sensation of your normal breathing. At the end of the session, you might return your attention to your full range of senses before opening your eyes.
When you do this simple exercise (or something akin to it), you are literally practicing the skill of being present in the current moment. Over time, it becomes easier to do so in your day-to-day life. This can lead to feelings of calmness and clarity while helping to reduce stress, anxiety, and/or negative self-talk. Just a few minutes a day (though you may find that you enjoy longer sessions as you become more experienced) can really give a boost to your mental health and help you to develop resilience.
Setting Self-Judgment Aside
One of the key components of mindfulness practice is a willingness to be kind to yourself. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley puts it this way:
Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Getting a Little Guidance Can Be Helpful
Even though mindfulness practice is fairly straightforward, it can still help to have a guide who can gently talk you through your sessions and give you pointers for how to get the most out of your commitment to staying present.
There are a number of different ways you can get that guidance. A variety of popular apps (some free, some not) are available. You might also find a class or other resources in your local area. And there are plenty of books—including books by Thich Nhat Hanh—that can be excellent tools for getting your own mindfulness practice underway.
Keep Us In Mind When You Need Mental Health Treatment
At Peak View Behavioral Health, we are single-minded about providing evidence-based, compassionate treatment for mental health disorders. We are committed to providing treatment that is personalized to your specific needs. So if you are struggling with a trauma-based disorder, one of the various kinds of depression, anxiety or panic disorders, or other mental health challenges, we are ready and able to help. Make up your mind to contact us and get the quality care you need and deserve.