Mindfulness: Useful or a crock?

As many of you know I have been going through an out-patient therapy program at a local mental health institution in Montreal. Monday’s and Friday’s consist of group therapy sessions that are heavy and loaded with emotion. We go around a circle and talk about our week, set therapeutic goals, and generally talk about what we’re struggling with. Tuesday’s are a psychoeducational group of some kind. They teach us therapeutic techniques, whether it’s visualization, setting values and goals, and learning how to make changes. Wednesday and Thursday we have physical activities that we’re obligated to participate in (for the non-athlete like me, this is a painful experience), and following that we do more psychoeducation.

The focus for many of these groups have centred around mindfulness. For the uninitiated, mindfulness is a practice whereby you accept, in a non-judgmental way, the thoughts and emotions that come into your mind. There are different techniques to practice mindfulness — like really paying attention to what you are eating. What are the tastes? How does it smell? What textures do you feel as you chew? Other strategies for mindfulness involve imagining your thoughts on various items and letting them float away. For example, pretend you’re holding a bunch of balloons and every time a thought comes into your mind, mentally write it on that balloon and let it go. The idea is that you acknowledge the feeling and let it go. It’s not about suppression but a general acceptance of the way you’re feeling and being.

In theory, this sounds like a great practice. I think we would all benefit from being more mindful of the world around us and the thoughts that spin through our heads. Except, what happens when it doesn’t work? I have been struggling with the idea of mindfulness because I can’t seem execute it. Speaking with my therapist on Monday, she said it takes practice but for an impatient perfectionist like myself — I need it to work, like, yesterday. My mindfulness practice ends up with me frustrated and giving up. First, I have a hard time acknowledging the thoughts that pop into my head. So, to theoretically write them on balloons and let them go is difficult when I don’t even know what I’m thinking about.

Ultimately, I think mindfulness would be useful to me but I feel like I’m stuck or blocked. I don’t know if this is a part of mindfulness, but I have started colouring intricate designs (thank you Sarah for introducing this to me). I pop my earbuds in and focus all of my energy into choosing colours and organizing the patterns in the picture. And for that short time that I am colouring, the negative monologue that is on a loop in my head stops and I’m able to breathe.

What do you think of mindfulness? Is it a useful technique? Are some of us hardwired for it to not work? Is it just a matter of practice? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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13 thoughts on “Mindfulness: Useful or a crock?

  1. I think it can be useful once the symptoms of our illness have been brought down to a manageable level through other means/treatment. It is hard for someone in extreme pain (like a broken leg) to practice mindfulness. Once they are through the acute phase of pain and dealing with the aftermath, it gets a little easier. I have found that recovery comes in increments- taking a few steps forward and a few back. Sometimes in the beginning if feels like just going through the motions. It is good to have as many tools in your toolbox as possible in the long run. 🙂 Hang in there.

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  2. My psychiatrist and therapist have helped me with it. It’s a tool in my mental tool box. The app Calm is pretty awesome for basic meditation/body scan, as recommended by my doc. I’m clawing my way out of a depressive episode right now and the practice of labeling my emotions and taking a step back has been helpful. Mindfulness isn’t a cure or quick fix, but I believe it has helped lessen this episode and in general help with my anxiety. Keep with it, if you can. Every little bit helps.

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  3. I think Amy nailed it. I love my classes, but I also dig the lady who runs the program too, she makes me feel very comfortable. We do a lot of grounding work as well so it took quite a long time for me to kind of let go enough to participate (3 months) but I’m glad I did. I hope you find something to take away as useful. You aren’t a failure.

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  4. I hate the classes and the program. The application of the techniques doesn’t do anything for me. I am angrier and more volatile since starting now than I was before. But, I’m happy for those it works for. Therapy isn’t one size fits all. They want to sell us the idea that it’ll work for everyone “willing to try and keep at it,” but that’s like saying one medicine will work for everyone too.

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  5. I haven’t really dove much into mindfulness myself. I only seem to use it when I’m having an anxiety attack and my mind is racing a mile a minute. It helps me get through those moments, but I don’t really use mindfulness as a daily routine. I’m glad the colouring is working out for you, I find it super helpful and enjoyable. It doesn’t feel hokey or dumb, nor does it need practice. Keep at it friend, you’ll get through this and you have plenty of people that have your back.

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  6. I used the Headspace App for four months because I got a free trial through a giveaway. It was 10 minutes a day, every day that I committed to. For probably the first two months I was alternately not trying or getting pissed because it didn’t work immediately. Then somewhere in the third month i found myself just kind of listening to guides and zoning out and now in month four I’m actually doing it. I don’t know if you need to just stick it out or try a different technique, or walk away from it.
    I couldn’t write my thoughts on balloons because like you I can’t always ‘grab’ them and name them. I found that the idea of standing on a roadside and watching them drive by worked way better for me. I could think about what the road looked like and what the cars looked like and was able to kind of notice the thoughts without trying to get too deep with them – does that make any sense??? Also, I didn’t have to ‘let them go’ because I never had to catch them in the first place, they were just driving by.
    Now that I write it down it seems silly, but when I’m doing it it seems to work. I still only do 10 minutes a day, ut I have noticed that my anxiety and negativity levels are down throughout the day.

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  7. I’ve discovered that mindfulness lays the foundation for DBT therapy. Remaining mindful helps you to be aware and identify your own feelings and thoughts in a given situation. This skill is designed to relieve emotional pain and increase acceptance. Awareness opens the door to discovering how to improve your relationship skills so you don’t suffer as much from anger or hurt feelings, for example. Mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness skills, emotion regulation skills and distress tolerance skills are the cornerstones of DBT. I found an easy to read primer describing these steps at my local library, ”Relationship Skills 101 For Teens: your guide to dealing with daily drama, stress and difficult emotions using DBT.” The word ”drama” is a turn-off, but apart from that, anyone could benefit from these skills to change old behaviour that no longer serve well into a way of relating to every day’s challenges. The benefits are more inner peace, better outcomes and less trauma in everyday relationships, better feelings about yourself and others, in general. No skill is perfect, but building on mindfulness is worth it.

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  8. I tried abookon mindfullness,. But then it also reminded me why a lot of psychologists get a bad rap. It’s a current fad flowing through right now. I can see the benefits that can come from it, but my jodrb gives me plenty of time to roll thoughts around in my head if i want. They real key is to find a way to just chill out and ponder things without resorting to chemicals. Sometimes just putting on some chilled out music and letting the notes drift through your head can be quite therapeutic.

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  9. Pingback: 5 things I’m grateful for in my mental health journey | Mad girl's lament

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