Everyone at some point in time experiences distressing emotions. It could be related to the loss of a job, a relationship, a changed lifestyle or even having a new president. Often, the strategies we use to manage these feelings do not help. Some people try to avoid their feelings by distracting themselves with other activities or people indefinitely. While others tend to use various substances or engage in self-destructive behaviors as a means of escaping reality. What more and more mental health treatment providers are recommending in relation to helping people deal with emotional suffering is the application of mindfulness skills.
Mindfulness as a concept was first noticed in relation to eastern meditation practices. One of the benefits of those practices was that the practitioner would be able to be totally in the present and not thinking about past or future worries. Mindfulness skills are the natural byproduct of this phenomenon. Within mental health treatment, mindfulness skills help people pay attention to their emotions without judgment or will to change them.
What research has shown is that if people are able to use mindfulness skills to attend to emotional distress or suffering, they tend to have significant improvements in their emotional health. The idea is that if people are able to step back from what they are feeling and describe their experience without judgment, they are able to separate their sense of self from their emotions. Furthermore, when people stop acting willful about changing how they feel, they are often able to decrease the time that they are in emotional pain.
A short exercise on how to start applying mindfulness skills when you are feeling emotional distress is provided below:
1. Observe your emotion: Note its presence, step back, and try to get unstuck from the emotion.
2. Experience your emotion: It can help to imagine your emotion like a wave, coming in and going out. Do not try to block or suppress your emotion. Furthermore, do not try to get rid of or push away your emotion. If your emotion is pleasant, do not try to keep it around, hold on to it or amplify it.
3. Remember to separate yourself from your emotion: You do not necessarily have to act upon your emotion and remember a time when you felt differently.
4. Practice embracing your emotion: Don’t judge your emotion, be willing to accept your emotion for the time being.
Mindfulness is one of the core skills taught within the DBT skills group at Specialized Therapy Associates, should you have any interest in enrolling in the DBT Skills group, please call 201-488-6678 for details.