Mindfulness and How to Use It

Mindfulness is a DBT skill. In intensive outpatient therapy we’ve learned a LOT about DBT. Mindfulness is the first concept I want to cover not only so I can share my insights and knowledge but so I can say that I’m currently in the process of mastering it. Trust the process. As long as you put in the work, you can create new neural pathways exercising that part of the brain and allowing you to get better at it, and to feel better doing it.

Mindfulness is about paying attention non judgmentally to the present moment. This can go hand in hand with the concept of grounding, and being aware of the environment. In this state we accept what we’re feeling and allow it to come in rather than fighting it. Diffusing feelings and thoughts as they come into our minds and manifest in our bodies by thinking of thoughts as leaves flowing down a river or putting a thought in a mental box and sending it down a conveyor belt and letting it pass by. This allows us to give note to the emotion or thought but also to then let it go and come back to center yourself with your breath.

One thing I like about mindfulness is that there’s a sense of a physical point you can bring yourself back to. You can never be in the past and get a breath back and you can never get a breath from the future ahead of time. Therefore, when you breathe you are totally immersed in the present. There are other DBT skills such as “Radical Acceptance” which we’ll talk about another time and which has some play in mindfulness, but are harder to grasp a grounding point in which to refer back to if you’re having a rough time figuring out if you’re TRULY using the skill or not. However, there are other indicators.

Some people have certain breathing preferences while being mindful. Some people like guided meditations. Headspace is a great app, Calm is pretty good, but not all guided meditations work for everyone. There are tons of ways to be mindful however. To start with guided meditations (easily accessible and they tell you exactly what to do) they may either tell you to inhale a certain amount of seconds, hold and then exhale, they may if it’s an app have a visual for you to follow for inhaling and exhaling. If you’re meditating on your own and want to clear your mind what you want to do is focus on your breathing. Breathe deeply and be sure you’re getting air in your diaphragm. This is a true deep breath feeling your belly rise and fall. If your thoughts wander, don’t get mad or try to suppress them, just let them go and come back to your breath. You may want to start meditating for 3 minutes at a time and build your way up, some people may need to start with 1 or 2. The key really is to come back to the breath.

Another way to practice mindfulness, especially when anxious is to do the 5,4,3,2,1 method. I do this mostly when I feel my anxiety is starting to pick up and run with its energy. You stop yourself and (saying things aloud makes them more real by the way, so if you can, say this out loud) find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.

This may look like:

“I see the door to my room, I see the gold door handle, I see my notebook, I see my weighted blanket (GREAT for anxiety btw), I see a mug.

I feel my weight of the clothes I’m wearing, I feel the hard bar under the table where my feet are resting, I feel my shirt is soft, I feel my dry skin.

I can hear a light buzzing in my ears, I can hear the heater, I can hear someone doing the dishes in the other room.

I can smell eggs cooking, I smell the staleness of the air around me.

I taste my gum.”

Another way is to create a labyrinth. If you glue pipe cleaners, beads, yarn or something physical to the pattern then you can close your eyes, think about the answer to a question non judgmentally or you can just focus solely moving your finger through the labyrinth and getting to the center and then out again. Keep one in your car or in your room or your bag and you can use it when you need something tangible to ground yourself with.

Other ways to practice mindfulness include knitting or crocheting (remember to focus on the task at hand, non judgmentally the way you would your breath, and even during this time you can focus on your breath! Let your thoughts be diffused and BE in the present moment.

There’s also watercolor painting, saying the alphabet backwards or counting backwards by 7’s from 100, spell a word backwards even (things that take your whole mind to do which will help you focus on that and not what thoughts you may be ruminating on etc.). You could go on a 5 minute walk, you could put a cold pack under your eyes and focus on the sensations, you can use affirmations (which it’s best to be able to visually see, flash cards are a great idea for this one), coloring, yoga, journaling and my personal favorite listen to instrumental music with a beat you can follow and breathe in and out with the beat.

I try to practice mindfulness at least 5 minutes a day. I’d like to ramp that up to a half hour a day. Doesn’t have to always be lumped together either, but practicing it has helped me challenge racing thoughts, anxiety and rumination. It feels really weird to just, “be”. But it’s a tremendously important skill to be able to accomplish.

Drop a comment if you’d like to hear more about mindfulness or any other DBT skills in particular! I want to share what I’m learning and experiencing in outpatient a bit at a time. Damn feels good to blog again. Thanks everybody.

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