Musings – 08.01.21

Mindfulness – and how it applies to mental health

“Our life is shaped by our mind, for we become what we think.” Buddha.

Many of my clients know that I’ve transitioned from EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) in treating trauma and associated PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I’m going to address PTSD and EMDR and ACT in my next few blogs.

I started my career as a social worker in 1999, when I became a (PSW)Protective Services Worker for the County of San Diego within CPS (Child Protective Services). My first position was within a specialized division called Residential Services, where PSWs worked with foster children who were placed in treatment-level foster homes or group homes due to meeting the criteria for being SED (Severe Emotional Disturbance).

I didn’t choose to be in this division, but it was my passion, and remains my passion, working with people with serious mental illness. It’s called SMI (Serious Mental Illness) and refers to people older than 18. SED (Severe Emotional Disturbance) refers to people younger than 18.

One of my little passions within my big passion is working with people who have experienced trauma and meet the criteria for a diagnosis with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). I imagine none of you have difficulty understanding that children who have been removed from their families experience trauma in their lives. What a lot of people DON’T understand is that trauma is a compound concept. Each subsequent trauma is “informed” by past traumas, i.e., each time a person experiences something harrowing, it builds upon each previous traumatic experience. So, in a very real sense, each trauma is made worse by each trauma that came before.

Mindfulness is a cognitive or mental state that is extremely effective in treating trauma. It, for the purposes of mental health treatment is defined as “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, used as a therapeutic technique.”

Mindfulness itself is an ancient concept, with origins in Hinduism and Buddhism, approximately 2500 years ago. Like with most things, the idea moved from East to West, and from religion to science.

I’ve been using it, increasingly, in my LCSW practice, as, I find that our modern society is TOO FAST! And too disjointed. It is, indeed, the opposite of mindful, and the very real way of living for the NEXT moment, rather than actually living for the current moment.

How many of you can relate to driving to work (prepandemic) and not even remembering the drive…that all of a sudden you are THERE, at your workplace, and you don’t remember any of the steps you took to get there. It’s been called being on “auto-pilot” and now, modern society, i.e., doctors, therapists, coaches, etc., call it muscle memory. It IS that, but it’s so much more. Our memory and recall are gathered in clusters, and muscle memory relates to tasks or thoughts or actions that are repeated and familiar. Those which as unfamiliar, such as a bird hitting our windshield, or a car pulling in front of us, causes a sharp “return” to ourselves, i.e., our brain moves out of the familiar and the mundane, to the unfamiliar and the unusual.

Now, going on autopilot during our boring daily commute is not a bad thing, but it does shorten our attention to our daily living, which is not a good thing.

Mindfulness, in the context of mental health, refers to being present, being grounded, being active and aware during the living of your life.

It helps in the way that you pay attention to the present moment, using various techniques such as meditation and yoga. In being mindful, we can be more aware of our thoughts and our emotions, which, in turn, helps us be less overwhelmed by those thoughts and emotions.

Mindfulness is also impactful, in a very positive way, on managing stress, anxiety, depression, issues with substances, such as drugs and alcohol, and can even impact in a very positive, specific way, with physical issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and even chronic pain.

Ways to implement Mindfulness into your everyday life:

Body Scan: take an inventory of your body. Start with your feet, then your calves, your knees, your thighs, your stomach/abdomen, your chest/lungs, your fingers, your wrists, your hands, your arms, your shoulders, your neck, your head, etc.

Mindful Walking: take a walk, anywhere, in your neighborhood, on the beach, in the forest, in a meadow, anywhere! Notice what you notice with each of your senses, your smell, your taste, your sight, your hearing, etc.

Mindful Eating: take notice of what you are eating. Each bite, notice the taste, is it sweet, salty, sour, etc. Is it bland or is it spicy? Notice the texture, is it soft and mushy, crunchy, sticky, etc. Notice the temperature, is it hot, is it cold?

Mindful Listening: take notice of what sounds you hear. Is it loud? Is it soft? Is it soothing? Is it jarring? Is it harmonious? Is it constant? Is it intermittent? Can you make out what you are hearing? Are there voices and words? Are there sounds like animals or insects? Can you identify the sounds?

Now, with mindfulness, there is no right or wrong. There are no answers or questions. There is only “being.” Being present. Being grounded. Being in your body. Being aware of your body. Being away are where your body is in the world.

Next week we will go over ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and how it applies in your treatment, and, indeed, in your life.

More Mental Health Musings coming next week!

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