“If you are going to fast, then you need to slow down”.
-Mitchell Mathews, LCSW
Admittedly as a young clinician when it came to the topic of Mindfulness, I was skeptical. I had done research on the topic but had never seen it used in a therapeutic environment. My clinical supervisor swore by the effectiveness of this coping skill, so I began implementing mindfulness exercises and techniques during client sessions. My skepticism quickly dissipated as I witnessed measurable benefits in the lives of my patients. I will define Mindfulness and discuss some of the significant clinical improvements I have encountered in my own life and witnessed in clinical practice.
Before I used and recommended Mindfulness I thought of it as having to do with monks and meditation. I have now come to understand Mindfulness as “Engaging all of the Senses”. Using all of your senses; touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound, with the purpose of being hyperaware of what you are doing in the present moment. In simpler terms I think of mindfulness as being intentional in the moment. In my own life this was a foreign concept. Often when completing some of the most basic tasks my mind would be swept away into a plethora of overwhelming thoughts. In order to combat these racing thoughts, I would put my head down and keep working. With my mind being cluttered it only felt natural to keep my daily activities in the same disarray. So I kept working, avoiding my thoughts, working, and avoiding my thoughts.
As a therapist, sometimes you can feel like a bit of a hypocrite. At times it is easier to make suggestions and recommendations than to follow your own advice. With mindfulness I first had to apply the skill in my own life. I identified and began with a task where my mind wonders often, washing the dishes. There’s something about a dirty pile of dishes in a full sink that makes my mind want to go elsewhere, so I knew it was a good place to start. I decided to approach the dishes with intention. I stepped up to the sink as if I was stepping up to the podium to deliver a powerful speech. Then the hard part, I paid attention. I felt the temperature of the water on my hands, I heard the sound of a coarse brush against a glass plate, watched the water droplets splashing onto the cold metal sink below, and smelt the aroma of pomegranate dish soap. To my surprise I completed the dishes in the same time if not sooner than during my previous method. I figured out that I can slow down my thoughts without slowing down my behavior, and for me this is a game changer. When I find myself getting stressed, or anxious I am now able to gather myself and increase my intention in any given moment. I find that mindfulness has benefited me in multiple areas of my life specifically, my relationships, my view of the world, and my ability to process difficult emotions.
I have seen mindfulness provide immediate relief in crisis situations. It is common for those experiencing a crisis to completely lose the ability to regulate their emotions. This can present with any mixture of the following symptoms. Increased heart rate, muscle tension/ shaking, quivering of the lips, hyperventilation, and excessive crying. I have sat with many people experiencing the above reactions and have seen amazing results after the implementation of a simple mindfulness exercise. Wherever the person is I get eye level. If they are sitting on the ground, I crouch to meet their view. I tell them to look at the whites of my eyes, then I tell them to feel their feet on the ground, feel the texture of their shirt or pants, and then I tell them to shut their eyes. I lead the individual through a guided pattern of about 5 deep breaths. I remind them to feel their lungs expanding, listen to the sound the air makes coming out of their mouth, and notice the tension that releases at the end of each breath. After about 5 minutes I tell the individual to slowly open their eyes. I remind them that they are still alive and breathing. 9 out of 10 times the person will be close to or fully back at their baseline. Lowered heart rate, normal breathing, and clear thoughts.
The same mindfulness exercises implemented daily over the course of several months have yielded great results in a therapeutic setting. A therapy session is a great way to get comfortable with being mindful and practicing with the guidance of a licensed professional. If you find yourself thinking about 10 things at once, not being able to concentrate at work/home, or feeling emotionally tangled then mindfulness can help.