So Bellsie, I can see that you’re desperate to start. So what on earth is mindfulness?
Mindfulness was defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn, an American doctor who first conceived the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course as; “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994)
What does that actually mean in practice?
There are all sorts of different ways that mindfulness can be incorporated into daily life – from mindful breathing and body scans exercises to carrying out your normal activities (eating, getting dressed or even driving.
Mindfulness is not a relaxation technique. There’s no tinkly music or whale song. It’s more a way of living.
In some ways, mindfulness can be thought of as the contrary of the incessant rumination that develops with anxiety, choosing to observe the thoughts that pass through without passing judgment or interpreting their meaning.
And how would that help with anxiety?
Potentially it could help in different ways for different people. The main way that mindfulness has helped me is reducing thought-action fusion and thought suppression, but people also might just find that it makes them calmer and helps them to deal with stress in a more healthy way.
Wait a second, what on earth is Thought-Action Fusion?
Thought-action fusion (TAF) is a pretty common cognitive distortion that is often present in individuals living with anxiety, in particular, OCD and that falls within the larger category of magical thinking.
What’s magical thinking? That sounds fun!
Magical thinking is the attribution of causality to unrelated events and is the root of non-clinical superstitious behaviour as well as a component of anxiety and something that we all do.
You mean like touching wood or saluting a magpie?
Yep. Thought action fusion is a type of magical thinking and it comes in different types.
Thought-action fusion can for example be defined as the belief that ‘having an unwanted, unacceptable intrusive thought increases the likelihood that a specific adverse event will occur ’ (which is known as likelihood thought-action fusion), or maybe ‘that having an unacceptable intrusive thought is almost the moral equivalent of carrying out that particular act’, (known as moral thought-action fusion) (Shafran & Rachman, 2004).
So it’s like thinking of killing someone is as bad as doing it? Or that thinking about someone having an accident makes it more likely?
Exactly. Mindfulness can be effective in helping the individual to view their thoughts as temporary and objective.
And what about thought suppression?
Thought suppression is exactly what it says on the tin – pushing away thoughts and trying as hard as you can not to “think” them.
That makes sense though, doesn’t it? I mean if you have a thought that you don’t want then you should push it away, right?
One of the defining characteristics of intrusive thoughts in anxiety is that they are seen as distressing and unwanted by the sufferer. The act of thought suppression is paradoxical in that the harder one tries not to think of something, the more frequent the thought becomes.
Yes. Let’s do a quick experiment (this is one of my favourite examples!). I want you to try your hardest not to think of a pink elephant for a whole minute. Are you ready? Go.
Well that didn’t work.
No. You see, it’s like I said – the harder you try not to think about something, the stronger it becomes.
Research has shown that not only is a tendency towards thought suppression correlated with obsessional thinking, but also that people with anxiety and particularly OCD are more likely to put the inevitable failure to suppress their thoughts down to their own personal psychological weakness (Tolin et al. 2002).
Mindfulness, as I said earlier, invites individuals to regard their thoughts as temporary and objective. Instead of trying to push the thoughts away, mindfulness teaches people to experience the thoughts without judging them or trying to control their content or frequency. One could argue that mindfulness would therefore prevent the thought suppression paradox from occurring.
So are you saying that mindfulness could be used to treat anxiety?
The current research findings indicate that mindfulness has a potentially positive effect in the treatment of anxiety, generally when integrated with CBT.
One possible criticism of mindfulness is that it could become a form of neutralisation, thus becoming a ritual itself and reducing the effect of ERP interventions. It is important therefore to clarify that mindfulness is neither a distraction technique nor a relaxation exercise, but a state of mind, congruent with the immediate reality.
Wow Bellsie! That sounds really interesting! Where can I find out more about mindfulness?
Why thank you! There will very likely be courses going on around where you live, but you can also find all sorts of resources online.
Check out Be Mindful – full of interesting things.
I would also read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are or listen to one of the many audio recordings out there.
But above all – don’t be scared to give it a go. And keep at it – even just for a week or so. You might discover that it isn’t for you, but you might also find that it opens up a whole new way of living.
You might like to try this No Panic audio to give you a taster: https://nopanic.org.uk/a-moment-of-mindfulness-video/
How can No Panic help?
No Panic specialises in self-help recovery and our services include:
Providing people with the skills they need to manage their condition and work towards recovery.
Our aim is to give you all of the necessary advice, tools and support that you will need to recover and carry out this journey. No Panic Recovery Programs