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March 26, 2021
by Tina Arnoldi

Mindfulness May Not Be So Great After All

March 26, 2021 07:57 by Tina Arnoldi  [About the Author]

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash“Be mindful”. But does that guidance really help? It has become common advice and there are proponents of mindfulness. However, a recent study in PLOS Medicine found that while mindfulness programs may have specific effects on some common mental health symptoms, they are no better than other interventions. 

Experts agree the advice to “be mindful” is too generic. It is useful with practice and therapist guidance, but it takes time to see benefits. Dr Dilraj Kalsi, founder of Hippocrates Lounge notes we cannot quantify how mindful people are before, during and after interventions which limits research findings. Kalsi explains, “With a concept like mindfulness, that is difficult to define and cannot be directly measured, it is hard to draw definitive conclusions at scale.” 

Elyse Wagner, MS, CN, LMHCA, founder of My Kitchen Shrink, agrees that mindfulness is not helpful when it’s given as a general directive. Instead she views it as a skill. She explains, “It's a muscle that strengthens when practiced daily in situations from brushing your teeth to being present in meetings.”

Psychotherapist Austin Hunter, MA CMHC notes the study indicates that MPB's effectiveness in nonclinical settings is equal to other standard interventions, which is an important distinction. “Where does MBP work to alleviate symptoms well beyond other interventions?” asked Hunter. “In specific applications by trained clinicians with specific diagnoses. A TR-PTSD sufferer asked to meditate on their own will only experience feelings of disconnect and discomfort.”

Samantha Foster, founder of Rethink Mental Health, shares her personal experience. “I am in remission from borderline personality disorder,” shared Foster. “One of the top treatments for borderline personality disorder is DBT, of which a main component is mindfulness. I have used DBT extensively and when all components are practiced, mindfulness plays a crucial and effective role in improving mental health and stabilizing emotional dysregulation. The mindfulness fad does not do much for mental health besides provide a short-term sense of calm. And mindfulness is advertised in a variety of activities that do not guarantee true mindfulness. Being truly mindful takes practice and discipline, especially the ability to disregard passing thoughts and avoid judgement. Overall, there is a definite place for mindfulness in treating mental health issues, but results are not obtained through mindfulness activities alone or when mindfulness activities are poorly executed.”

For those who practice mindfulness, it can become a preventative measure as well as a treatment tool. The key mentioned by all experts is the willingness to practice. Therapist Katie Lear, LCMHC, RPT, RDT, emphasizes the results are gradual. “Mindfulness takes time to learn,” said Lear, “and the results are cumulative. With regular practice, you may notice subtle but noticeable shifts in your wellbeing.”

Robert White, founder of Any Length Retreat, works with people recovering from substance use disorders. “Mindfulness prepares our clients for a successful life once they leave our facility. In their active addictions, many numbed uncomfortable emotions with their drug of choice. Mindfulness teaches them not to avoid that experience, but rather to adopt an observing attitude toward those feelings. Developing these habits give recovering addicts the resources to combat emotional triggers and reduce the risk of relapses.”

But can mindfulness ever become a negative thing? Therapist Orit Krug MS, BC-DMT, LCAT believes mindfulness is toxic when people are so focused on thoughts and emotions that it creates more mental health issues. “When we focus all of our energy on being with our thoughts, through self-reflection or journaling, we often create a further disconnect from our bodies,” said Krug. “This concerns me because some mentally unhealthy coping strategies occur from mind-body disconnect, such dissociation, numbing and escaping the body via substance abuse. Mindfulness isn’t meaningless, but the entire goal of mindfulness is defeated when it serves to disconnect or escape the physical and emotional body.”

Perhaps there is an alternative that’s better than mindfulness, which author Ravi Kathuria says is mindlessness. “Mindlessness is the ultimate state where the mind is completely silent,” said Kathuria. “It is not an involuntary state, it is an aware state. This state unleashes waves of inner-peace, which strengthens our ability to deal with life, and helps us connect with a higher sense of being. Think of it as a spectrum. On one end, is the frenzied, hyper-active, consumed mind. The next stage is mindfulness, where the mind slows down to be in the present moment, relish the moment, and be focused on whatever is happening in the moment. On the other end is mindlessness. At the end of the spectrum, awareness of the mindless state also dissolves. That is the ultimate state. Every human being should experience it.”

About the Author

Tina Arnoldi

Tina Arnoldi, MA is a business consultant and freelance writer in Charleston SC. She has reviewed books for PsychCentral and has a portfolio on Contently. You can learn more about her and connect at TinaArnoldi.com


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