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  • Writer's pictureEmily Brewster

Harnessing the Power of Mindfulness for Mental Health: A Path to Healing & Clarity

In the hustle and bustle of today’s fast-paced world, finding moments of peace and clarity can seem like a far cry from reality. Today’s modern world is full of distractions and our attention can be pulled in countless directions. A constant stream of notifications, demands, and information beckoning our eyes and minds to notice- what’s the cost of getting swept up by the endless chatter and commotion? Often the result is stress, anxiety, disconnection, and an ever-present worry that can either drive us to overprepare or avoid and numb out on life.


Statue of Buddha meditating

Alas, in ancient practices, there lies a transformative tool that offers humanity a way through the chaos- mindfulness. In this post, we will explore the profound impact that mindfulness practices can have on stress reduction, mental clarity, and an improved ability to ride the waves of life’s uncertain waters.



Understanding Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a word and concept that has made its way into our present-day vocabulary (and for very good reason) and has found its home in a variety of places, like schools, clinical settings, work environments, and is even used by our military. Although it can seem like a new buzzing idea, mindfulness has its deep roots in ancient contemplative and spiritual traditions. Mindfulness has been practiced in various forms across cultures for thousands of years. While the practice has connections to Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies, its essence goes beyond any specific religious or cultural framework.

sun and stack of rocks on the beach

According to leading researcher, expert, and developer on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn (2018) defines it this way: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” The practice encourages individuals to intentionally observe their thoughts and feelings without judgment, fostering a sense of clarity and acceptance. At its core, mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment. By embracing non-judgmental observation, individuals can untangle themselves from the web of stress and anxieties that often accompany modern living.

 



The Transformative Effects

 

 Stress Reduction & Health

In a world painted with constant demands and pressures, stress has become an unwelcome guest for many. Mindfulness emerges as a powerful ally in this struggle, with numerous studies showcasing its ability to significantly reduce stress levels. The benefits go beyond mental well-being too. Studies have supported that mindfulness can improve our sleep, mood, immune function, and can even help to manage chronic pain more effectively. When we consciously engage in the present moment, we create a mental sanctuary where stress finds little room to thrive. This doesn’t mean stress disappears, but we can learn how to co-exist with the demands and adversity in ways that doesn’t intensify our suffering.


person walking on a nature path

Improved Focus

Mindfulness acts as a mental anchor, sharpening our minds and enhancing our ability to concentrate. Whether at work, in studies, or daily tasks, improved focus becomes a natural byproduct of a regular mindfulness practice. The more practice we have at observing our experiences, rather than getting engulfed by them, the more natural of a reflex the skill becomes.


Overall Mental Clarity

In the pursuit of mental well-being, clarity can be pivotal. Mindfulness and meditation open the door to a clearer mental landscape, free from the fog of worries and external pressures. As we cultivate the ability to observe our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, a sense of mental clarity emerges, allowing us to navigate life's challenges with a newfound resilience. This can help to clarify our values and act on the things that matter most to us in life. Clarity can feel like coming home after a long, taxing journey; a breath of fresh air.


woman sitting and looking out at a lake

Creating a Mindfulness Routine


Mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, chances are that intentional, yet simple strategies can make your mindfulness practice a sustainable way of approaching life’s challenges. Each moment in life presents us an opportunity to tune into mindful, non-judgmental awareness, however, establishing a simple and consistent routine can give you the practice and confidence to know that these skills make a difference.


Start Small

steeping loose leaf tea

Brushing your teeth or making coffee in the morning? Maybe doing dishes, sipping tea, stretching or taking a walk around the block? Tune into your experience by noticing thoughts, paying attention to what senses are being activated (taste, smell, touch, sound, etc.), and being fully present in the moment. Instead of finding yourself lost in thought and your mental to-do-list, gift the moment your complete attention. You can find convenient pockets of time throughout the day to dedicate to a mindful moment. Start with 2 minutes at a time and start to increase your time gradually.


Consistency is Key

To garner the effects of mindfulness, practice and consistency make all the difference. Like trying to build physical strength and stamina, it takes time and effort to grow. The more you flex your mindful muscles, the more natural and reflexive this skill becomes. Try to dedicate and pair your practice with a certain time of day, space, or situation you can commit to routinely. Every moment you spend turning to mindful awareness is a gift for your mind and body. If you can start to master paying attention to the simple tasks of life, you can start to harness mindful awareness for life’s greater challenges.


a wooden path through forest

Common Obstacles

Starting a mindfulness practice may pose challenges, but this is normal and to be expected. The most common obstacles people report are having a busy mind, perceived lack of time, or difficulty staying consistent. This can often lead people to think they are doing it wrong and give up the practice too quickly.


Strategies for Overcoming Challenges

Mindfulness doesn't mean emptying your mind of thoughts or ridding your body and heart of its emotions. The task of mindfulness is to notice and hold the experience without judgement and to choose where we are placing our attention. If you notice busy thoughts, you are doing it right! You can practice using your breath as an anchor; notice the rise and fall, how it feels coming and going. Come home to your breath if you find yourself getting carried away by the current of busy thoughts. Let them come and go like leaves gently falling and floating on a stream.

If you skip out on the practice, give yourself permission to come back to it and try again.


The Role of Self-Compassion

Try to hold a compassionate stance towards yourself and the practice. Recognize that all humans struggle to use these skills (even those who practice a ton). Gift yourself gentle encouragement and permission to keep turning back to the present moment. You’ll find that mindfulness has a natural way of generating compassion and acceptance, so keep going. It's also helpful to know that the goal of mindfulness is not to relax (although it can sometimes be a pleasant side effect). Be gentle with yourself if you find it difficult to settle into the practice. Self-compassion is an inherently mindful process of noticing our discomfort and responding with tenderness. You can offer yourself some nourishing words or a simple gesture of a hand over your heart space.


pink lotus flower sitting in glass bowl

Mindfulness practices can bring about subtle changes in the way we relate to ourselves and the world around us. The more you pay attention, the more you will notice the difference practicing makes in your moment-to-moment experiences.


Get Started on Your Mindful Journey Today

Mindfulness is a longstanding way that humans have found freedom from suffering and contact with the present moment over centuries. By dedicating time to a simple, but consistent practice of holding non-judgmental awareness and attention, modern humans can reap the benefits and rewards that mindfulness have to offer for their mental health and beyond.

 

Every moment is an opportunity to turn to the present, non-judgmentally. Each step you take towards incorporating this skill is time and energy well spent. Start today by committing just 2-5 minutes of your time to being fully present in the moment; whatever you're doing. No task is too small or insignificant. This moment, right here, is the best moment to start.



glass ball reflecting the beach and sunset


Emily Brewster, MSW, LICSW, MHP

Emily Brewster is the founder, owner, & therapist at Light of the Moon Counseling, PLLC. Emily offers individual mental health therapy services via telehealth to adults dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, and trauma. She is a US Army Veteran and is passionate about educating others about mental health and effective strategies to find relief.





 References:

The Healing Power of Mindfulness: A New Way of Being, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, published by Hachette. Copyright © 2018 by Jon Kabat-Zinn

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