Sport and Performance Psychologist Abra Garfield introduces the concept of Mindfulness and how it can help in the management of stress.
Therapy utilising a Mindfulness approach has a vast range of applications, and can be used in the treatment of:
- Depression and low mood;
- Anxiety, worry and the inability to relax;
- Management of pain, especially chronic pain;
- Stress and high blood pressure;
- Lack of energy and enthusiasm;
- Difficulty sleeping;
- Low self-esteem, self-critical thoughts;
- Addiction and dependency;
- Unhealthy eating behaviour;
- Work/Sport performance issues; and
- Obsession about the past or future.
At the same time, it can be a great help in enhancing the following qualities:
- Your ability to cope with stress and anxiety in the workplace;
- Satisfaction in your day-to-day work and family life;
- Motivation to engage in important activities;
- Increased immune system function and brain activity;
- The ability to “bounce back” from negative experiences and trauma;
- Experience of “flow” in everyday life (sport, performance, and exercise);
- Ability to focus attention on tasks;
- A sense of purpose in your life.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is an attentive, observant, and open attitude towards one’s own experience and mental and emotional states.
The theory and practice of mindfulness has its roots in Buddhist meditative traditions, but has been developed further in modern contexts as a clinically proven approach to developing mental health and controlling stress and pain.
Mindfulness is a specific set of techniques that can be cultivated either in meditation, or in the context of counselling and therapy. It can be transformative beyond the solution of the specific problems, and can enhance quality of life as a whole.
The 14th Dalai Lama describes mindfulness as a “comprehensive platform for developing self-regulation, self-exploration, and self-liberation”.
Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn (2003), author of several books and the creator of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, describes mindfulness as: “Paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”.
How Mindfulness can help
Mindfulness techniques can help us to overcome psychological obstacles to reaching our goals and living a fulfilling life.
The aim of mindfulness training is not to block, change, or replace any “negative” thoughts or feelings we may have as a result of everyday life.
Rather, it helps us to develop the perspective that memories, thoughts, or feelings are not harmful directly and do not always accurately represent reality. It is our struggle to control them, and the attention we give to them, that can be harmful.
Mindfulness can help us to become more aware of and less influenced by our internal experiences, allowing us to access the present moment and direct our efforts towards our goals and dreams.In short, mindfulness allows us to become more responsive to others and to our world, and less reactive, thereby regaining control of our lives.
Mindfulness in the Modern World
Many of us lead fast-paced lives balancing multiple responsibilities: school, university, work, relationships, sport, shopping, the maze of gadgets we use, family priorities etc.
As a result our attention is divided, and we are forced into a confusing and challenging mental juggling act. This limits our ability to attend to what is really important and to enjoy the “here and now”.
We often generate counter-productive thought and emotional patterns as a result of the modern busy lifestyle, withdrawing from the people we love and things we enjoy (hence why success and money do not equate to happiness).
This is a common cause of anxiety and depression, as chasing calmness, satisfaction, or happiness becomes an uphill battle in a world where time can seems so scarce. We can easily lose touch with the here and now, the things we can control, the simple joys and fun in life, and the things that are most important to us (family, personal development, exercise, etc.).
Many of us have thought of meditation as a form of self-help, and may even have tried it, but may feel that, short of shaving your head and becoming a monk, it doesn’t fit with the “real world”.
Mindfulness techniques however can be adapted to suit the individual and are broader than meditation, encompassing several types of activity.
There are many levels of mindfulness development through which we can progress. Mindfulness enables us to “reconnect” and pursue our goals by cultivating two fundamental skills we all share:
- Choosing where and how we focus our attention at any moment, including maintaining attention on a target;
- Choosing how to evaluate our experiences, thoughts, and feelings so that they don’t cause us stress.
Mindfulness techniques involve concentration, such as assisted and at-home meditation and sometimes movement. These techniques can be incorporated into daily activities such as exercise, listening to music, and even cooking.
Usually these activities have a calming effect, but they should not be confused with relaxation (although they can be used to achieve this state if that is our goal).
Many of us live most of our lives on autopilot, and do not exercise these skills. Practicing mindfulness techniques puts us “back behind the wheel”. Cultivating these skills requires training and practice, but it can be accomplished by anyone, and leads to dramatic improvements in mental health, happiness and effectiveness in life.
There is a great deal of evidence indicating that mindfulness techniques and meditation (and yoga, which involves both movement and meditation), successfully reduce many psychological symptoms and can also improve some physical health indicators. Cultivating mindfulness can benefit anyone, from a professional athlete managing performance anxiety or pre-event sleep issues, to the corporate executive struggling to manage stress – in fact, anybody wishing to improve their ability to focus and achieve their life goals.
If you are interested in finding out more about Mindfulness and how it can help you in your busy life, I welcome you to make an appointment with me.
Author: Abra Garfield, BPsych, MPsych (sport & exercise), MAPS; Medicare ATAPS provider.
Abra Garfield is an endorsed Sport and Performance Psychologist, with a passion for helping others to achieve optimal performance whether on the sports field, in the classroom, home or office. By drawing on a range of therapeutic techniques including Mindfulness, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivational Interviewing, Abra helps many people with goal setting, motivation, and overcoming anxiety.
Abra is the Principal Sport Psychologist and founder of Summit Performance Psychology. Visit the Summit Performance Psychology website to learn more or like us on Facebook to receive Summit Performance Psychology Articles and event updates.
To make an appointment with Abra Garfield try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.