By Aislinn Kelly Burke, LMFT
When I first teach mindfulness, I often get initial resistance from clients. I have heard responses such as “I can’t do it. I’m too anxious” or “I don’t see the point. How is this really going to help?” Research has shown that meditation practices can help with a variety of issues, including substance abuse, trauma, anxiety, and depression. Despite effective research on its usefulness, teaching our mind how to focus and be present can be challenging and even scary. In Dialectal Behavior Therapy, Marsha Linehan offers quick mindfulness skills to help individuals who cannot yet regulate their emotions well enough for formal mindfulness meditation (Linehan, 2015).
So what exactly is mindfulness? It is the act of consciously focusing your mind in the present moment without judgment and without attachment to the moment (Linehan, 2015). It can help us become more aware of what is going on for us internally and externally. We become more present to the “right now”.
Why be mindful? Mindfulness practices can help us to increase our ability to regulate emotions, decrease stress, anxiety and depression. It can also help us to focus our attention, as well as to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgement. As we become more present in our lives and in relation to others, it can help us to make better decisions, to manage our emotions and to be more fully engaged in life.
How can we be mindful? We can learn how to be mindful at anytime, anywhere and while doing most anything? In DBT, mindfulness is broken down into “What” and “How” skills. “What” is what we actually do when we are practicing mindfulness. The first skill is to Observe– we can observe internally or externally. This is just noticing what we may see, hear etc., or what we are feeling, thinking or noticing within ourselves. The second skill is to Describe what we see or what we experience without judgment. For example, if I’m looking at a picture I would just describe exactly what I see. I would not state whether or not I liked the picture. The third skill is to Participate. This means to fully throw ourselves into the experience. For example, when you’re dancing, you would allow yourself to fully dance while letting go of inhibition or judgement or feelings of self-consciousness. The “How” is how you practice mindfulness. The first skill is Nonjudgment. This is to let go of evaluations of “good/bad” etc. The second is One-mindfully. This means to do one thing at a time, letting go of multitasking. The third is Effectively. This means to let go of right versus wrong/ fair vs. unfair. It means to act as skillfully as the goal requires. It is to do whatever is needed in the moment.
In recovery, there will be painful times in the journey. Mindfulness can help center you on being fully present for right now. It can help you to let go of the “what-ifs” in your future and the things you cannot change in the past. It can help you make wise decisions and use effective coping skills before acting on eating disorder urges or other self-destructive behaviors. Mindfulness can help you to learn to calm when emotions are getting “out of control.” It does require active and daily practice. Mindfulness practices in DBT can take 1-5 minutes which is something we all have time to do. With increased effort, you can learn to do mindful meditations that require more focusing of your mind for longer periods of time. Google has a variety of practices online to try. Here are a couple of links to check out:
Learning to be mindful can help increase your belief and ability to recover. It will help you to fully embrace all that life has to offer.
(Adapted from DBT skills Training Manual Second Edition, Marsha Linehan, 2015)