My experience teaching mindfulness as a clinician
As a mental health clinician, I often provide mindfulness training as part of a larger treatment protocol. Mindfulness is beneficial in a variety of mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, emotion regulation, among others.
My patients usually enjoy mindfulness practices quite a bit. They find the experience to be very pleasant, relaxing, and takes them away from the hustle bustle of everyday life.
However, there are times where they feel more reserved about the mindfulness practice. These are usually times when the practice wasn’t very relaxing; in fact, it was distressing – they had a lot of racing thoughts, emotions (guilt, sadness, doubt) were rising, and it was much harder to let go and focus on their breathing.
During these times, patients may be discouraged from practicing because they feel like the mindfulness practice has failed since it wasn’t the pleasant experience they were hoping for.
When this happens, I usually let them in on a couple secrets.
The first is that as much I think it’s great when mindfulness is pleasant and calming, unlike relaxation therapy, mindfulness is not necessarily about relaxing.
The second is that I actually think it’s a good thing that not all mindfulness practice is enjoyable (I’m not a sociopath – I swear). Below, I’ll discuss the rationale for this perspective.
Benefits of dealing with distress in mindfulness
Mindfulness can be helpful because it allows us to let go of experiences, attend to them, notice them non-judgmentally, and let them go. This can be particularly important when we are distressed or depressed because we are able to sit with negative experiences and not give them power.
You might see where I am going with this.
If the purpose of mindfulness is to be able to better deal with negative feelings and emotions without being reactive, then engaging in mindfulness practice even when it’s tough and not very enjoyable at times is important to begin to simply observe these experiences, rather than fall into them.
This continued practice will allow us to respond rather than react to stressful situations when they happen in real-life. This gives us a chance to act in a way that is consistent with the person we want to be or the goal that we want to reach, rather than simply in a hurtful way.
How do I use this information in my mindfulness practice?
There’s a few strategies to support regular mindfulness practice even when the going gets tough.
- Recognize that mindfulness experiences can sometimes be tough. And that’s completely normal. Try to simply notice thoughts and feelings in the same non-judgmental way, let them go, and return to focusing on your breathing.
- Reframe unpleasant experiences as something positive that will train you to improve emotion regulation and distress tolerance, rather than something being wrong with your practice. The brain does what the brain does – and sometimes the brain is not always our best friend.
- Realize that you’re doing everything right and keep at it! There’s nothing wrong with mindfulness being a little tougher at times.
Check out this post if you’re interested in learning more about the What and How of mindfulness (i.e., what are some mindful activities and how do I engage in them)!
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