Mindfulness is a third generation therapy that emphasizes the process of paying full attention to the present experiences , to the moment you live, to focus the consciousness on what is happening in the present, and positively with the vital connections.

There is a specific program called MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) . It is a program developed in the USA, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, at a medical center of the University of Massachusetts.

In its usual format it is structured as a course that is given in a group (small groups), of approximately 30 hours. Studies have shown significant reductions of 35% in medical symptoms associated with stress and 40% in psychological discomfort (Martín, 2014).

Here we will see what are the keys and attitudes of Mindfulness and how it is used in the therapeutic field.

The mechanism of stress

Stress is an evolutionary development that has thousands of years of history. In fact, it is a survival mechanism without which human beings would not have managed to survive in an inhospitable world. This phenomenon is based on a complex physiological mechanism in which its main protagonists are fear and anger . This allows us to apply skills of escape or struggle, depending on the case, in the face of stimuli and danger signals, through the so-called spirit of survival.

On the other hand, stress has three phases. The first is stimulation, which is the reaction that the organism experiences in order to face the problem; the second is resistance to the threat, and lastly and as a consequence of all the effort generated, exhaustion. With this comes the wear and tear that is the true meaning of the word stress . A series of illnesses associated with anxiety, together with environmental and/or genetic causes, derive from this wear and tear.

As we have seen, the whole mechanism of stress was very useful in typical Paleolithic habitats. Now, this defensive mechanism has been maintained over time in the face of current events that may still be threatening (like an individual fleeing when a river overflows), or in the face of stimuli that the same individual interprets as threatening, but perhaps less objectively speaking (finishing a job at a certain time, because there may be a perception of “lurking”).

In these situations, stress can stop being functional when it is subject to constant activation, because the mind can lead us to imagine or anticipate “without limits” unpleasant situations, leading us to classic dysfunctional or pathological stress.

When this mind-body reaction becomes chronic, by repeating it over and over again, it facilitates the emergence of mental health problems .

Stress-related problems

As mentioned above, stress is triggered by two basic emotions, anger and fear. If the cause that generates them is not resolved, sadness arises, and if it lasts longer, this phenomenon can give way to depression.

Chronic anger will lead to aggression and violence, while chronic fear, anxiety, phobia or panic attacks.

Thus, in the present world, far from being prey to predators as in the Palaeolithic, we can be prey to our own thoughts . Our thoughts are always occupied with a past that cannot be changed and projecting the desire for an unpredictable future.

Therefore, breathing, self-awareness, connecting with us, with the present moment, in the here and now, is where we can put our energies through Mindfulness. It is therefore a matter of feeling the present, listening to the moment, closing our eyes and gaining awareness of what we are experiencing in each moment, without becoming obsessed with what is to come.

Mindfulness Attitudes

From compassion towards oneself and towards others (compassion seen as the understanding of pain or discomfort, not of “the poor, who are bad”), Mindfulness takes 7 attitudes.

1. Do not judge

Avoid the emotional attack that invalidates the person receiving it.

2. Patience

To have respect and compassion for our mind, and to return to the present when we see that we are distancing ourselves from it. It implies accepting oneself as one is . Not pretending to be otherwise.

3. Beginning Mind

Observe our experience with curiosity , as if we were living it for the first time. It will be the facilitator who will encourage motivation and attention.

4. Trust

Trust and not judge us. Free us from the tendency to judge us harshly.

5. Do not strive

Meditate not to (calm a pain) but because (I feel the pain) . If we have a well-structured session, we will be able to bring out the right and necessary energy for each exercise.

6. Acceptance

When we do not accept ourselves, we lose the opportunities to perform the most appropriate actions , and we waste energy and time, which has repercussions on our physical and mental health. Do not force situations. Admit the present.

7. Letting go

Not to get attached to ideas, sensations and results.

Relationship to cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy holds that our thoughts are ours, and these are the ones that support our actions . Mindfulness therefore helps people to observe each thought as a hypothesis, to question it and to generate new optimal, functional or objective thoughts. Therefore, both tools complement each other well.

Benefits of Mindfulness

Mindfulness generates changes associated with various benefits , both on a physical and emotional level. They are, among others, the following.

  • Recharge energies and reduce suffering.
  • Enjoy quality sleep.
  • Relax better.
  • Make time for yourself.
  • Reduce distractions.
  • Accepting reality as it is.
  • Connect with yourself and get better relationships with others.
  • To promote physical well-being in general.
  • Identify and recognize emotions and thoughts and minimize the anxiety they produce.
  • Reduce stress to reach a calm stage.

Session structure and clinical applications

The sessions are led by psychologists, therapists or professionals trained in Mindfulness. The structures of the sessions are different, but they pursue the same objectives : to bring calm to the person who practices it and to allow him/her to generalize it to his/her daily life. They are programs structured in different sessions, according to needs, or individualized in psychological therapies, or even in school classrooms. It is fundamental that the instructors know how to guide well and know the context and the people who attend the sessions.

On the other hand, the applications to which Minfulness is directed are

  • Stress
  • Panic disorder
  • Mood disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Somatizations
  • Eating disorders
  • Psychotic disorder
  • Addictions

Meditation should not be considered as a psychological treatment or psychotherapy per se (Vallejo, 2007), although it can be part of and contribute to improving the effectiveness of meditation, with daily practice.

Authors: Sandra Giménez and Santiago Luque, psychologists in BarnaPsico

Bibliographic references:

  • Onion, A, Fields, D (2016): Teaching Mindfulness. Contexts of instruction and pedagogy. Journal of psychotherapy. Vol, 27. Pages 103 – 108.
  • Thich Nhat Hanh (2016): Silence. The power of stillness in a noisy world. Uranus.
  • Unger A. (2016): Calm. 50 Mindfulness and relaxation exercises. To reduce stress. 5 Inks.
  • Martin, A (2008): With a sense of direction: Enjoy life without stress.