What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a technique that can help people manage their mental health. It or simply gain more enjoyment from life. It involves making a special effort to give your full attention to what is happening in the present moment – to what’s happening in your body, your mind or your surroundings, for example – in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness describes a way of approaching our thoughts and feelings so that we become more aware of them and react differently to them.
“Practicing mindfulness makes me feel more connected to my body and gives me a breathing space between thought and action.”
Where does mindfulness come from?
Mindfulness originates in Buddhism, but being mindful is a skill that anyone can learn. You do not have to be spiritual, or have any particular beliefs, to try it.
It was adapted into structured programmes – like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) in the 1970s and then mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – to help people manage long term health conditions and enhance their general wellbeing. This is usually what people mean when they talk about mindfulness being used to treat mental health problems.
How can mindfulness help?
Mindfulness can help you to:
- increase your awareness of your thoughts and feelings
- manage unhelpful thoughts
- develop more helpful responses to difficult feelings and events
- be kinder towards yourself
- feel calmer and able to manage stress better
- manage some physical health problem, like chronic pain
Does mindfulness work for mental health problems?
Studies show that practicing mindfulness can help you manage mild depression, anxiety and other common mental health problems. The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) based in UK recommends:
- using mindfulness, including MBCT, to treat mild depression and to help prevent further episodes of depression
- not using mindfulness, including MBCT and MBSR, to treat social anxiety
“Mindfulness does help me with my mental health issues. It’s not the cure and it won’t work every single time, but it has helped me to alleviate anxiety and depression”
Research into whether mindfulness could help more complex conditions, such as psychosis and bipolar disorder, is still in the early stages – so it is not clear how beneficial mindfulness could be in helping people to manage these conditions. In some cases, mindfulness has made the symptoms worse for people suffering from trauma.
For more information on deciding whether to try mindfulness, see the section “Is mindfulness right for me?”
“When I’m in a particularly unwell state, mindfulness is not beneficial, as I cannot bring myself into the present at all.”