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Improving your Mental Health through Mindfulness

This is how you can improve your mental health through mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of mind that focuses on determining and acknowledging what we are feeling in the present moment, without passing judgement on what we are experiencing (Seribu Tujuan). It involves bringing your focus to the present moment without getting caught up in judgemental thoughts or emotions about what you are experiencing. The relationship between mindfulness and mental health might not be obvious; but it is an incredibly helpful tool in managing our mental health. A number of mental illnesses have a common denominator; overwhelming negative emotions that can cause psychological distress. Negative emotions, manifested in stress, worry, anxiety, fear, can occur because we fail to focus on the present moment.

The relationship between mindfulness and mental health can be constructed as this; we do not perceive the world as it is, but as what we have experienced before. If we don’t have any memory or any recollection of it, we won’t know how to react. Our memory has been accumulated since we were created. All of the experiences that we have gone through since then are stored as memories. When our memory of the past comes to the surface, it comes in two shapes; the first, is that they become a trigger where we remember something that occurred in the past, and second, when we don’t want to deal with our memory of what happened in the past but they come to the surface anyway. Conflict arises when there’s an incongruent between what we want/what we yearn for, and the reality that’s on the table. When the past surfaces but we don’t want to deal with it is when conflict occurs. We have what we want, but the reality is different from what we want. This causes us to be ruled by our minds; by what we want instead of the reality. These thoughts of what you want becomes reoccurring, consciously or unconsciously, and it enters our mind space. If we follow these thoughts, and we can’t control them, it arises as a conflict that manifests themselves as negative emotions, such as worry, stress, anxiety or fear. Being able not to follow your thoughts, or wallow in them, as they arise- is the fundamental principle of mindfulness.

Several scientific studies have been done to examine the relationship between mindfulness and mental health. The first breakthrough discovery was made by John Teasdale at the University of Oxford, that mindfulness practice in combination with cognitive therapy is able to reduce episodes of depression by 50% in patients who weren’t helped otherwise. People who practice mindfulness have reported fewer symptoms of depression (Anderson et al, 2007). The practice of mindfulness was shown to be beneficial for mental health, because the elements of mindfulness, such as awareness and acceptance of experience are regarded as a potentially effective antidote against forms of psychological distress (Keng, Smoski & Robins, 2011). It has also been shown to lower the frequency of negative thoughts that are automatic and to enhance the ability to let go of those thoughts. (Frewen et al, 2008). According to one study, the positive relationship between mindfulness and mental health could also be explained through need fulfilment (Bice, Ramsey & Ball, 2014). Fulfilment, or satisfaction, sits at the core of human need. The feeling of belonging, high-levels of self-esteem, and having a meaningful existence serves a key role in the importance of mindfulness for mental health.

"In other words, the relationship between mindfulness and mental health can be seen as this; mindfulness will help you in managing your symptoms of psychological distress- negative emotions that are known as the common denominator of several mental illnesses."

The benefits has huge claims, but note how all of the benefits outlines the positive changes for its episodes, symptoms, and frequency of negative thoughts. Mindfulness, then, should not be used as a cure. Let’s use the following scenario to illustrate this point; you are an employee at a certain company, and you’re currently under a significant amount of stress trying to reach a deadline, you have a terrible work-life balance, and you’re being underpaid. Mindfulness can be used to manage the levels of stress that you’re currently in- but your condition won’t be improved without tangible and more practical considerations from your company- such as better living wages. Mindfulness, in this case, won’t help you solve your problems- it can only help you manage the manifestations of your problems.

In other words, the relationship between mindfulness and mental health can be seen as this; mindfulness will help you in managing your symptoms of psychological distress- negative emotions that are known as the common denominator of several mental illnesses. However, it should be noted that practicing mindfulness teaches you to recognise your thoughts when they come, to sit with it, and work with it; whether ‘it’ being the good, or the bad, can trigger a wide range of experiences. When mindfulness triggers negative experiences or memories, it doesn’t mean that our practice of mindfulness it’s not working- you’re only meant to recognise the thoughts and not follow it. It is important to remember that negative emotions; such as stress, worry or anxiety, also serves as a protective barrier against threat. We shouldn’t eliminate it completely- we should always remember that an overwhelming sense of negative emotions is what we’re trying to avoid, and this is what we could manage through practicing mental health.

Learn more about mindfulness at Seribu Tujuan

Anderson, N. D., Lau, M. A., Segal, Z. V., & Bishop, S. R. (2007). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and attentional control. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 14, 449–463.

Bice, M., Ramsey, A., & Ball, J.W. (2014). Relations between mindfulness and mental health outcomes: need fulfilment as a mediator. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, Doi: 10.1080/14623730.2014.931066.

Frewen, P. A., Evans, E. M., Maraj, N., Dozois, D. J. A., & Partridge, K. (2008). Letting go: Mindfulness and negative automatic thinking. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32, 758–774.

Keng, S.L., Smoski, M.J., & Robins, C.J. (2011). Effects of mindfulness on psychological health: A review of empirical studies, Clinical Psychology Review, doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006