Strategies for Coping: Mindfulness in Counselling

by Melissa Walsh

Over the past decade, psychotherapy and other forms of psychological coaching have slowly absorbed the various strands of wisdom that can be gleaned from Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, and using it in practice. One example of these practices is the tradition of mindfulness, which can be attributed to Buddhism. In recent years, coaching and other psychological therapies have developed strategies which patients can use to care for themselves, employing psychological methods that they can use to stop themselves from relapsing into mental illness, to halt recurring depression, to limit thoughts of self-harm, or even to prevent stress and burn out. Western medicine has long ignored the link between the mind and the body which Eastern medicine, in contrast, has always recognized. Mindfulness links the mind and the body together and also draws from practices such as yoga to help people cope with conditions such as anxiety and depression.

How to cope with the stress of modern life

Modern living is, it must be admitted, extremely stressful. Today we live at a pace that we must sometimes wonder was ever intended for humans to experience. This is especially true for urban dwellers making their way through cities. There are so many demands on our attention; our demanding jobs, which in the current financial crisis are likely to have become ever more demanding, our financial commitments, our families and our friends, the obligation to live up to society’s expectations of us, and the ever present internet, so ubiquitous that it seems sometimes that only in sleep can we even begin to escape from its presence. This is where the practice of mindfulness can be so helpful. It is a specific way that the physical and psychological well-being of the individual can be improved.

Mindfulness is certainly based upon ancient Eastern philosophies and traditions, but in their therapeutic use for patients they are not employed in any sort of religious tradition, but used to help people link together the movements of their bodies and the thoughts in their mind to create harmony in their minds and bodies. Stress often manifests itself in disorders of the mind, and people develop unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking too much, for which they need to enter rehabilitation programs so that they can fully recover.  Ultimately, mindfulness is a form of therapy which can be used to help people discover more skillful ways of coping with everyday life and avoid stress, which can be the cause of so many illnesses. Mindfulness can be described as the art of paying attention to everything that we are doing and thinking, in each present moment, and observing it without any judgement at all. The mind that is trained in the skill of mindfulness does not judge; but only accepts. It is the art of paying attention to each present moment, without worrying about the future, or ruminating upon the past.  In everyday life, we so often rush around with our minds on autopilot. We worry incessantly about all the tasks that we must do, and our minds are constantly talking. Mindfulness is the art of teaching our minds to be quiet, and to give us peace. The art of mindfulness can be applied to eating, so that when we are eating we train ourselves to notice all the sensations and our responses to them. We can try to eat every meal with simplicity. This is also true of drinking, as drinking drinking mindfully can encourage people to drink just enough to relax, and to help one’s ego to go to sleep, but then to drink no more. 

Don't allow your thoughts to wander 

The practice of mindfulness can be life changing, teaching us to be purposefully aware of everything we see, hear, touch or taste, rather than being only superficially and vaguely aware of everything. Each day, our brains are forced to concentrate on so many different things, so that we cannot pay attention to our needs or what we are truly feeling. All we know is that we are stressed and exhausted, and our energy is pulled in so many different directions. Instead of merely going through the motions, allowing our thoughts to wander off in different directions without restriction, mindfulness can help us to concentrate on what are minds and bodies are doing. In this way, by paying close attention to the present,  we can relieve tension from our bodies and relax our minds so that we can begin to pay attention to the world around us, creating a peaceful environment where we can always enjoy our lives without rushing or judgement and with great pleasure.

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