How Mindfulness Helps People Manage Their Symptoms

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We often read that the practice of mindfulness is helpful for managing symptoms of depression or other psychiatric diagnoses.

That is good to know, but it might leave us wondering exactly how mindfulness helps.

Focusing the Mind

Keeping the mind focused and aware is a helpful way to avoid negative thoughts. Here are a few ways that practicing mindfulness can help you focus and manage your symptoms.

  • Mindfulness can help you tame your thoughts. Keeping your attention focused on the present moment quiets the mind. It keeps thoughts about the past and worries about the future at bay. When symptoms are severe, present moment focus is not easy, but consistent mindfulness practice creates the capacity to keep your awareness in the present most of the time.
  • Mindfulness can help you focus on tasks. Mindfulness means keeping your awareness on the task at hand. If you are working on a project at the office, then your attention is devoted to planning and implementing. If you are carpooling kids to school, you are mindful only of driving and of the other drivers on the road. This focus excludes negative, anxious or hopeless thoughts that might otherwise bother you.
  • Mindfulness will help you separate symptoms from self. Mindfulness teaches us to step back and observe things impersonally, including painful feelings or even thoughts related to suicide. By becoming an observer of our symptoms, we begin to stop identifying with them, and the symptoms lose some of their intensity.
  • Mindfulness will help you stop needless struggling. The energy we put into struggling against our symptoms can make the symptoms stronger. As we observe symptoms non-judgmentally, our resistance to them diminishes. Without a wrestling partner, symptoms often weaken.
  • Mindfulness teaches that thoughts and feelings are temporary. Through mindfulness practice, we realize that thoughts and mind are not the same thing. Thoughts come and go, but mind – our capacity for awareness – simply exists.
  • For instance, thoughts that arise like waves on the ocean eventually fall back into the larger body of water. Thoughts may cross our mind-scape as clouds across the sky only to dissipate like water vapor. We view this coming and going of thought with our awareness, which remains unaffected by what it sees.

The Nature of Mind

The thoughts that occupy our mind may be negative, our feelings may be painful and our brain chemistry may not always be optimal, but our mind – our pure awareness of self and others – is not altered by these things.

Mind is neither ill nor symptomatic, and can never be. This understanding allows us – if we choose – to question our habitual problematic thoughts and wonder if it is possible to release them for good.

"Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally." ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn

 
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