Mindfulness is all the rage right now. In 2015, Time magazine declared that we are in the midst of a mindful revolution. Rigorous studies in the field of neuroscience continue to demonstrate the efficacy of the practice in areas ranging from chronic pain to post traumatic stress to the emotional health of children.
So Why Would I Tell You to NOT to Start A Mindfulness Practice?
For the sake of illustration, think of a young Superman who suddenly realizes he can fly, but he doesn’t yet know how to fly well. Instead of being a full-fledged superhero, he is clumsy and even dangerous. The practice of mindfulness can be like an unharnessed superpower. It is such a powerful practice that if misunderstood, it can have the effect of making your experience feel more difficult.
With this in mind, here are 4 challenges and 4 cautions for your consideration. I will conclude with 4 practical supports you can use to meet the potential challenges of starting a mindfulness practice.
1. Changes – Mindfulness is the foundational practice of becoming more aware of your life one moment at a time. As you grow in awareness, you will likely want to make changes. However, despite how much potential benefit a change may bring, it will likely disrupt the flow of your life, which can cause additional stress.
2. Acceptance – Acceptance is another key part of mindfulness. You may not think of acceptance as challenging, but learning how to become aware of, and then accept, past and present decisions can be hard—especially when you feel you’ve made a mistake. But acceptance of what is and has been is a vital step in making new choices as you move forward.
3. Emotions – People often report that their emotions feel more vivid after they start practicing mindfulness. This is good news when it comes to the emotions we want more of, such as happiness and joy. However, it can be challenging when other emotions show up in your practice such as anger, sadness, and fear. This, too, is a normal part of becoming more mindful.
4. Discouragement – When we become more aware and begin to make changes in our lives, we often have to dismantle entrenched patterns to create room for new ones. Mindfulness is not a quick fix, and you may become discouraged when you fall back into old habits. Learning to begin again and again is a vital part of moving forward.
1. Depression – As you now know from the 4 challenges, mindfulness can make emotions more vivid. One part of depression is experiencing persistent difficult emotions. It is important not to allow emotions to become so vivid that they feel overwhelming and make depression more challenging.
2. Substance Abuse – Using substances such as alcohol is a way of managing stress. Again—if difficult emotions become vivid to the point of overwhelm, it can trigger this pattern as a way of coping.
3. Suicidal Ideation – Although there are many different threads which may lead a person to considering suicide, it too can be a way of trying to manage feelings of being chronically overwhelmed. It is important that you learn to give yourself a break so that you feel safe when you are practicing.
4. Traumatic Brain Injury – An injured brain is a brain that needs to heal. When we practice mindfulness, we are literally working the brain much like a muscle at the gym. A healing brain will fatigue more easily, and so it is important to rest when you feel tired.
As you can see, mindfulness can sometimes be challenging, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Here are 4 key supports you can use to help navigate the sometimes challenging journey of becoming more aware.
4 Supports for Your Mindfulness Journey
1. Time – There are many mindfulness courses, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindful Self-Compassion that are offered in an 8-week format. Time is your friend when trying to develop the practice of mindfulness. Be patient with yourself and take the long view. Give yourself all the time you need to cultivate your practice.
2. Community – Most people think of mindfulness as something to be practiced alone. However, community support has always been a key part of the practice. Meditating with others is energizing and encouraging.
3. Therapy – Finding a supportive therapist can be a vital part of your mindfulness practice—especially if you identify with any of the 4 areas of caution. In fact, sometimes therapy is described as “assisted mindfulness” because the therapeutic process will help you become more aware.
4. Medication – It is important to recognize that medication is often a vital support on the journey to mental health. Once you feel better, you will likely find that you can more easily learn and incorporate the tool of mindfulness. There is no shame in using medication and mindfulness together for the rest of your life if that is what is best for you.
As you can see, mindfulness is a powerful practice. It is accessible to nearly everyone, and it is best practiced with support. Do not hesitate to contact GRCFM with any questions and consult with a mental health professional if you have any concerns about starting a mindfulness practice.