Mindfulness… it doesn’t work.
This is a common concern I hear from clients, and it usually includes a recent story about how breathing didn’t help calm them down when they were in the midst of a panic attack.
Of course it didn’t work.
Mindfulness is an incredible tool, but it’s not the only useful coping skill. When choosing to use a coping skill, you need to keep in mind if it “matches” the intensity of the emotion you’re feeling. For example, you will be better able to concentrate and use a higher functioning skill at a lower level emotional state compared to when you’re experiencing panic.
Mindfulness has two definitions:
- The quality or state of being aware of something
- A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations
Mindfulness is best used as a proactive tool, NOT a reactive tool. It helps to keep you in a calm state, not de-escalate you to a calm state. And a more appropriate way to think about mindfulness would be to consider it as a practice versus a skill. It is a practice that works overtime.
MRI results have indicated that after just 8 weeks of a consistent mindfulness practice, the amygdala—aka the brain’s “fight or flight” center—shrinks; conversely, the pre-frontal cortex (associated with higher-order brain functions such as concentration, decision making, and awareness) thickens. It should be noted that these brain scans were done when participants were not in a meditative state. In other words, the pain-lessening effects of mindfulness are not something you have “to work yourself up to” — it seems to be a more permanent change.
With more evidence supporting mindfulness, society is beginning to consider it as science versus simply a spiritual practice. So, if mindfulness feels daunting or discouraging, that’s okay. Practice makes progress. Some of my favorite tools to help you get started (or keep the momentum going) include the Calm App, Headspace, and even YouTube!
Whatever your mindfulness activity of choice (meditation, yoga, breathwork, prayer)…get to practicing!
About the author, Mackenzie Dajani:
Mackenzie is a Resident in Counseling with an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marymount University and a B.A. in Psychology, providing counseling services at our Alexandria location. She also holds a Religious Studies degree from The College of William & Mary.
Mackenzie has completed internships working with diverse individuals, couples, and families. She has completed the majority of her residency in an inpatient behavioral health hospital. She has clinical experience and a particular interest in working with adults, couples, anxiety, depression, relationship distress, grief, and motivation. Mackenzie offers Christian counseling, as well.
Mackenzie provides a person-centered and holistic approach, utilizing strength-based, cognitive-behavioral, and Gestalt interventions. As a certified yoga instructor, Mackenzie values mindfulness and the mind-body connection.