Mindfulness is a state of mind that may assist people in better interacting with life. Some individuals, on the other hand, seem to think that mindfulness is only about stress reduction.
This might be a problem because focusing one’s mindfulness practice on alleviating or avoiding short-term stress could cause people to miss out on actions that would better enable them to take on long-term stressors.
Mindfulness is defined as the mental state or process of being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment.
This psychological openness allows people to react less impulsively to events, choose instead of reacting, and act in a way that better supports their efforts to face life’s challenges.
People may misunderstand mindfulness because they believe that it is a state of relaxation or detachment from emotions. However, psychological research suggests otherwise.
In a 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Psychological Association, for example, researchers found that people who have a more mindful attitude tend to experience more intense negative emotions, such as anger and fear.
They also experience more positive emotions, such as interest and amusement.
Mindfulness is not just about sitting quietly doing nothing. It involves being attentive to what is happening in your body and in your mind
Zindel V. Segal, Psychologist of the University of Toronto
Segal and his colleagues conducted two studies with participants who either had or were at risk of developing a major depressive disorder.
They found that even when not actively practicing mindfulness techniques, people with more mindful attitudes were less vulnerable to symptoms of depression than those with less mindful attitudes.
“Our findings underscore the importance of assessing and enhancing mindfulness in treating depression,” says Segal. “Trainees in cognitive behavioral therapy learn mindfulness skills so that they can better help their clients.”
To better understand why people who are more mindful don’t attend to emotions sooner than others, the researchers measured participants’ responses to two tones of voice.
One tone was predictable and followed by an image that elicited positive emotion, while the other tone was unpredictable and followed by an image that caused negative emotion.
People who are more mindful are better able to disengage from the immediate reactions triggered by their emotions and focus on the longer-term implications of these reactions.
They became less emotionally aroused when they were told ahead of time about the images and tones, while people with less mindfulness continued to experience intense emotional responses even before encountering the images or tones.
Research has also shown that mindful people are able to recognize their emotions more quickly than others, but only if they recognize these emotions in themselves.
Mindfulness training is an important tool in helping people to better understand the present moment and react less impulsively.
Why do people misunderstand mindfulness
We are so overwhelmed with thoughts, feelings and emotions that it’s often hard to properly process them. This is especially true for stressed-out people who are feeling the pressure at work or have difficult relationships at home.
The problem here is that if we don’t understand what mindfulness really is and practice mindfulness techniques in a way that does not help us become more aware of our emotions, then we are doing it wrong.
Our goal should never be to get rid of our feelings or thoughts; that’s not what mindfulness is about. We need to embrace these emotions and memories because they help us understand ourselves better and develop new coping strategies.
How to do it right?
If you have tried breathing exercises, yoga, meditation and are still not sure where you stand when it comes to mindfulness, then try this simple test developed by psychologist Paul Ekman.
Ekman’s test is based on the idea that there are 3 basic emotions that all other emotions stem from joy, sadness and anger. Based on what you feel in these 3 basic emotions, you can then figure out whether you are more prone to negative or positive emotions.
First, think of a time when you were experiencing joy (for example, when your favorite sports team won a game).
Now ask yourself:
- Are there any other memories that pop up in your head?
- How about sadness?
- What comes to mind when you think of the last time you were sad? Anger?
- What about when you got angry, how can this experience be described?
Finding out whether your basic emotions are positive or negative is just one of the first steps.
Next, ask yourself if your emotions are intense or mild. Let’s take anger as an example again.
- If there was a time when you were angry, how much anger do you feel compared to other emotions?
- Does this memory make you happy or sad?
- Are your emotions positive or negative?
- What happened before and after the moment of anger that might have contributed to making the situation better or worse?
Consider all these questions carefully, because they can help us figure out why we sometimes don’t recognize our emotions until they become too big to handle.
Finally, think about the last time you felt sad and get in touch with this feeling.
- What is the difference between sadness and other emotions such as anger or happiness?
- How would you describe your feelings of sadness compared to what you felt when experiencing joy or anger?
When you are done with the test, find the answers to these questions in your journal. What type of memory did you experience when thinking about joy? Sadness? Anger?
How intense were your emotions at this particular moment? Can you describe them as positive or negative?
Do this for sadness and anger – what happened before and after each situation? How did you feel compared to the other emotions? What is the difference between joy, sadness and anger?
Now that you have all of this information about your emotional responses, it will be a lot easier for you to recognize your emotions in the future. If you are feeling sad or angry, take some time before reacting impulsively.
Mindfulness is about paying attention to and accepting all of our emotions in the present moment without judging them. Whether you are feeling joy, sadness or anger they are all important for your psychological health.
It’s not about getting rid of any specific emotion, it’s about accepting each experience as part of being human. Please keep this in mind when practicing mindfulness techniques.
So, when you are feeling sad or angry don’t try to hide it or fight these feelings right away. Sometimes, getting in touch with all emotions is the first step towards healing.