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Mindfulness Psychology

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Mindfulness Psychology

You may have heard of ‘mindfulness’ before. It is a trendy term used frequently in modern society. With the rise of awareness and cases of mental health problems, mindfulness is becoming more popular to ease the burden of everyday life.

It seems like everyone, celebrities and books alike, advocate living a mindful life, and many preach the benefits of mindfulness. Let us look at the definition and key components of mindfulness, which are the benefits of mindfulness and an evaluation of mindfulness as a therapy.

Mindfulness Psychology, meditation as a characteristics of mindfulness, StudySmarterMeditation as a characteristic of mindfulness, Freepik

Characteristics of mindfulness

What is the definition of mindfulness in psychology?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who popularised mindfulness in the West through his development of mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness is:

The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. – Kabat-Zinn, in Purser, 2015

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, a religion/philosophy that aims for its followers to attain enlightenment.

Mindfulness helps us become more aware of what is happening in the present without worrying about the past or the future. The focus is on the ‘here and now’. With mindfulness, we can examine the thoughts that arise during the day and accept them without trying to change them. In this way, our thoughts will not take over our feelings and behaviour.Mindfulness is applied mainly through breathing techniques and focusing on the ‘moment’.

Mindfulness and positive psychology

Mindfulness is a practice advocated by positive psychology. How is mindfulness related to the assumptions of positive psychology? Let us take a look.

The assumptions of positive psychology are:

  • Acknowledgement of free will: we have control over our lives. We can develop our strengths, plan for the future, make beneficial choices, and take charge of and promote our well-being.
  • The authenticity of goodness and excellence: most psychological disciplines focus on what is wrong with a person. However, positive psychology argues that positive qualities are just as important.
  • Focus on the good life: three dimensions of life lead to happiness, ‘the pleasant life’, ‘the good life’, and ‘the meaningful life’.

The key component of mindfulness is the recognition of free will. When we feel we have control over our thoughts, feelings and behaviour, we experience a sense of well-being and happiness.

Mindfulness encourages us to be in tune with our thoughts and emotions and to give ourselves control over them, rather than letting the thoughts and emotions control us. In this way, we have free will and control over our behaviour. We notice our reactions to stimuli and can try to act in a more beneficial way rather than reacting immediately to our feelings.

A mother asked her child to clean up his toys at the end of the day. When it was bedtime, she went into the bedroom and found it still messy everywhere.Instead of reacting instinctively and angrily yelling ‘I told you to clean up!, the mother notices her feelings rising, pauses, and decides to calmly ask, ‘Please clean this up like I asked you to’.

Mindfulness Psychology, representation of mindfulness and meditation, StudySmarterMindfulness and meditation, Freepik

The benefits of mindfulness

Practising mindfulness comes with numerous benefits. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends it for its effectiveness in preventive treatments, especially for people with depression. Here are some examples of the benefits of mindfulness.

Reduced rumination

Chambers et al. (2008) studied the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation training. Twenty novice meditators were sent on a 10-day intensive mindfulness meditation retreat. The researchers found that compared to a control group not participating in the retreat, the 20 participants in the intensive mindfulness retreat showed significant improvements in self-reported mindfulness, depressive symptoms, rumination, working memory, and sustaining attention.

Stress reduction

A meta-analysis was conducted by Hoffman et al. (2010) on the effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. In 39 studies, 1,140 participants received mindfulness-based therapy for various conditions, including cancer, anxiety, depression, and other problems. They found that these therapies were effective in helping people with anxiety and mood disorders.

Greater emotional control

Ortner et al. (2007) found that mindfulness meditation led to less emotional distress from unpleasant images. In their study, they found in an experiment that mindfulness practitioners (i.e., those with more experience using mindfulness techniques) showed less impairment from unpleasant images and reported higher levels of psychological well-being.

The second experiment compared mindfulness with relaxation training and no intervention techniques. They found that participants in mindfulness and relaxation techniques reported similar levels of skin conductance responses to unpleasant imagery. Still, the increased psychological well-being and decreased emotional impairment were specific to the mindfulness technique.

Self-observation and changes in the brain leading to happy emotions

According to Siegel (2007a), mindfulness allows us to change the flow of information in the brain to inhibit previous pathways that may have been maladaptive ways of thinking.

Davidson et al. (2003) found that patients who completed eight weeks of mindfulness meditation training had higher left anterior activation in the brain associated with positive emotions compared to a control group. Mindfulness meditation also led to better immune function.

Better relationships

Mindfulness was found to help people respond better and more helpfully to stress in romantic relationships. It also helps people communicate more effectively with their partner and increase relationship satisfaction (Barnes et al., 2007). Mindfulness also helps people express themselves better in social situations (Dekeyser et al., 2008).

Now that we have seen the benefits of the advantages, what techniques are there for cultivating mindfulness? We will discuss this below.

Mindfulness techniques and examples

Some mindfulness techniques include:

Meditation

Here we refer to a body scan meditation. Because of our hectic lives, tension can accumulate in parts of our bodies that we do not even notice. In a body scan meditation, attention is focused on each part of the body, starting with the feet and ending with the head, so that the person can relax each area of the body.

The meditation is best done lying down but can also be done sitting up. Every part of the body is scanned and relaxed by taking deep breaths. If you feel the tension in any part of the body during the body scan, you should pay attention to the feelings and notice them. The goal is to notice the sensations felt during the body scan without judging them but rather accepting them.By taking time for meditation, we can also give ourselves a break and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to a place of calm.

The key is to accept all the sensations in the body and relax.

Informal practice

We can all try to incorporate mindfulness into our daily routines. One way to do this is to focus attention on the task at hand without being distracted by other things.

Here is one example of mindfulness psychology in everyday life:

When you eat a meal, take the time to savour the taste; notice how each bite tastes.

Mindfulness Psychology, Example mindful eating, StudySmarterMindful psychology example: mindful eating, Freepik

Online resources and apps

Mindfulness is trendy in our culture today, which has led to a plethora of resources and apps to help us live more mindful lives.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction

Jon Kabat-Zinn developed Mindfulness-based stress reduction in the 1970s to help people with chronic pain who were not responding to medication.

Jon Kabat-Zinn wanted to help patients suffering from chronic stress find a different way of dealing with pain through mindfulness. Through mindfulness, patients are more in tune with their emotions and their bodies, they can recognise when to use techniques (such as yoga) to manage and endure pain, and pain symptoms also decrease. Today, mindfulness is used for various conditions such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

The program usually lasts eight weeks, with each weekly session lasting about two and a half hours.

Participants in the program are taught some concepts, such as stress physiology. They are also taught mindfulness meditation, body scanning, and yoga. During the program, there will be ample opportunity for group discussion about the practices learned and how to apply them to daily life. You will also be given assignments to practice at home.

Effectiveness

Reibel et al. (2001) studied the effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction in a group of patients with a range of medical diagnoses. 136 patients participated in the 8-week program.

Patients experienced improved health-related quality of life, such as vitality and less physical pain. Participants also experienced improved psychological well-being, with a 38% reduction in the Global Severity Index of the Symptom Checklist-90 Revised, including a 44% reduction in anxiety and a 34% reduction in depression.

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy incorporates cognitive behaviour therapy with the principles of mindfulness. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy aims to halt the cognitive processes that patients automatically engage in that lead to depression.

Methods from cognitive behaviour therapy are used, such as teaching patients how cognitive processes can contribute to depression. In addition, patients are instructed to observe, recognise and accept thoughts without judgement. Patients know these thoughts are just temporary, passing through the mind, rather than being a part of themselves. They are acknowledged to be dysfunctional.

Like mindfulness-based stress reduction, it is in the form of group sessions for eight weeks and teaches techniques such as meditation.



Mindfulness Psychology, Mindfulness-based Cognitive therapy, StudySmarterMindfulness-based cognitive therapy, Freepik

Effectiveness

Teasdale et al. (2000) conducted a study to investigate whether mindfulness-based cognitive therapy could help people with recurrent depression. 145 patients were assigned to either treatment as usual or treatment as usual plus mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Recurrence of major depression was assessed over 60 weeks.The researchers found mindfulness-based cognitive therapy significantly reduced the risk of relapse in patients who had previously had three or more depressive episodes. The therapy was not effective for those who had two prior depressive episodes.

Williams et al. (2014) conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, cognitive psychological training, or treatment as usual in patients with major depression (three or more recurrent episodes). 274 participants took part in the study and received mindfulness-based cognitive therapy with usual care, cognitive-psychological training with usual care, or treatment alone.The researchers found the patients’ treatment did not affect relapse rates. However, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy provided significant protection against relapse in childhood trauma patients.This study shows mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is an effective treatment, especially for patients with multiple depressive episodes or those with a history of childhood trauma.

Evaluation

Strengths include:

  • Mindfulness is considered an ethical therapy because there are no undesirable side effects of practising mindfulness. In addition, mindfulness promotes free will and the ability of people to take charge of their own lives and make positive changes.
  • As a form of therapy, mindfulness is accessible to everyone. There are numerous online resources and apps to check out. In addition, we can try to incorporate small doses of mindfulness into our daily lives.
  • Research evidence points to the practice of mindfulness being beneficial. Kuyken et al. (2013) conducted a study to investigate whether mindfulness was effective for adolescents aged 12–16 years in 12 secondary schools. Students either participated in mindfulness in schools programme or continued with the usual curriculum. Students who participated in the mindfulness in schools programme reported fewer depressive symptoms, less stress, and greater well-being than students who participated in the usual curriculum.

Weaknesses include:

  • Mindfulness teaches people to accept thoughts but does not address the source of the troubling thoughts. If these thoughts are not addressed, they can continue to cause problems for patients.

Mindfulness Psychology - Key takeaways

  • Mindfulness helps us be more aware of what is happening in the present without worrying about the past or the future. The focus is on the ‘here and now’.
  • According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is ‘awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally’. – Purser, 2015
  • In positive psychology, mindfulness is linked to the acknowledgement of free will. Mindfulness encourages us to be in tune with and control our thoughts and emotions. In this way, we have free will and control over our behaviour.
  • The benefits of mindfulness include less rumination, less stress, greater emotional control, introspection, and changes in the brain that lead to happy emotions, better immune function, and better relationships.
  • Some techniques to practice mindfulness include body scan meditation, the informal practice of incorporating mindfulness into our daily routines, and online resources and apps. There are also mindfulness-based therapies: mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
  • Overall, mindfulness is an ethically sound therapeutic approach that raises few concerns and has research to support its effectiveness. However, it does not address the cause of the troubling thoughts.

Frequently Asked Questions about Mindfulness Psychology

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who popularised mindfulness in the West through his development of mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness is ‘the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally’.

The three qualities of mindfulness are cultivating awareness, paying attention to the present moment, and being non-judgemental.

The purpose of mindfulness is to be more aware of what is happening in the present, without worrying about the past or future. If we can do this, we can have control over our thoughts, emotions, and behaviour.

Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhism. 

Mindfulness can help us live a more positive life by reducing rumination and stress, having more control of our emotions, and several other health and social benefits.  

Final Mindfulness Psychology Quiz

Question

What does mindfulness help us be more aware of?

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Answer

Mindfulness helps us be more aware of what is happening in the present, without being worried about the past or future. 

Show question

Question

Does mindfulness try to change the thoughts that we have?

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Answer

No, mindfulness lets us inspect the thoughts that arise during the day and accept them without trying to change them.

Show question

Question

How is mindfulness connected to positive psychology?

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Answer

In positive psychology, mindfulness is linked to the acknowledgement of free will. Mindfulness encourages us to be in tune with our thoughts and emotions and to give ourselves control over them, rather than letting the thoughts and emotions control us. In this way, we have free will and control over our behaviour. We notice our reactions to stimuli and can try to act in a more beneficial way rather than reacting immediately to our feelings.

Show question

Question

What are some mindfulness techniques?

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Answer

Body scan meditation, informal practice, online apps and resources, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

Show question

Question

During a body scan meditation, what should someone do if they feel the tension in any part of the body?

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Answer

A person should pay attention to their feelings and discern them. The goal is to notice the sensations felt during the body scan without judging them, but rather accepting them.

Show question

Question

What is the aim of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy?

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Answer

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy aims to halt the cognitive processes patients automatically engage in that lead to depression.

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Question

Is mindfulness an ethical therapy?


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Answer

Mindfulness is considered an ethical therapy as there are no undesirable side effects from practising mindfulness. Also, mindfulness encourages free will and people to take control of and make positive changes to their lives.

Show question

Question

What did Kuyken et al. (2013) find about students who took part in a Mindfulness in Schools Programme compared to those in the usual school curriculum?


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Answer

Students who participated in the mindfulness in school programme reported fewer depressive symptoms, less stress, and greater well-being than students who participated in the usual curriculum.

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Question

What is a weakness of mindfulness?

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Answer

Mindfulness teaches people to accept thoughts, but does not address the source of the troubling thoughts. If these thoughts are not addressed, they can continue to cause problems for patients.

Show question

Question

What are the five benefits of mindfulness?

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Answer

Reduced rumination, stress reduction, greater emotional control, self-observation and changes in the brain lead to happy emotions, and better relationships.

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Question

What did Reibel et al. (2001) find about the effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction?

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Answer

Patients experienced an increase in health-related quality of life and better psychological health including a reduction in anxiety and depression.

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Question

What are some techniques taught in mindfulness therapies?

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Answer

Mindfulness meditation, body scanning, and yoga.

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