Mindfulness, the new wonder pill?
The launch of Mental Health Awareness Week, which this year is “Mindfulness” themed, coincides with the latest statement from doctors in the UK stating that mindfulness could be just as effective as taking antidepressants!
With nearly 50% of GPs who don’t see talking therapies as a valid intervention for mental health problems, this is certainly a step in the right direction. However, just to put this into context, research also suggests that 30 minutes of exercise a day can be more effective than antidepressants. So is there a question that we are giving out antidepressants to too many people who don’t need them and would probably benefit from something better?
So what is mindfulness? It is no surprises that mindfulness became popular when CBT clinicians started to incorporate it into their work. However, the philosophy actually dates back to Eastern philosophy and Buddhism. To put it as simply as possible, mindfulness is about living in this exact moment, right in the here and now. Most people, including those suffering from mental health issues, will either spend their day worrying about what is to come, filling their time with anxiety while they crystal ball read and predict the worst. When they are not doing that, they are agonising about the past and what has been, beating themselves up with what they did or should have done. While we are doing this, we are missing everything that is going on right now.
To make it fluffy, we are missing out on the beauty of our life and the world we are currently in. If you have ever passed comment on someone missing out because they are buried in their mobile phone or felt annoyed at a loved one who can't enjoy an experience because they are constantly worrying about something else. Then you can see how mastering mindfulness can really help. Who doesn’t now know the phrase “Let it Go”.
Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of the “right now” What makes it realistic is that rather than trying to stop the worries or block them, it teaches us to allow them in but then to send them back out on their way. While we can't be “mindful” 24/7, even a few hours a day can have huge benefits on our well-being.
The technique carries with it a lot of exercises that you would expect to see in a yoga class. There are breathing exercise and meditations. It's not everyones cup of tea, but even the hardest skeptics are quickly won around by the positive effects a few minutes of teaching can have.
So is mindfulness a good thing? Of course it is, we should all learn to enjoy life right now for what it is, rather than constantly fretting of what is to come or what has been. What is important to understand is that most psychotherapeutic interventions will encourage a mindfulness-based philosophy. To enjoy life is to be aware of the right now.
For the amount of people that mindfulness works for, there will be an equal amount where it doesn’t. A good therapist will find what works for you and tailor their approach to fit that. What works, works. So while I encourage everyone to explore mindfulness, do not be discouraged if you find it isn’t for you and always take the latest reports with a grain of salt. If this doesn’t work for you there will be something that will. And if it does work, then that’s great.
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