Mindfulness is a misunderstood procedure that millions globally practice or attempt to practice. The term ‘mindfulness’ often leaves people asking questions such as “What is mindfulness? ” or “How could it help me?”

In this new series, we shall investigate mindfulness and attempt to answer the questions and defeat biases that have kept you from practicing it.

The Art of Focusing on Yourself

Focusing on yourself is an art form where you spend time and energy thinking and acting in ways that will help you meet your needs and achieve happiness. No, there is no guarantee that focusing on yourself will indeed cause happiness, but in doing so, you involve self-discovery and can begin taking steps to improve your life.

Focusing on yourself can be difficult for many because of the complex trauma’s damage to their self-esteem and sense of self. However, dedicating time to meet your basic needs and replacing negative thoughts with positive energy will sharpen and increase a healthy sense of self.

By focusing on yourself, you are giving yourself and your loved ones the gift of being your true self and being present in their lives and yours.

There are three things you can do to increase your focus on yourself while at the same time healing from complex trauma.

Establish firm boundaries. Set and manage boundaries that have balance in common. These boundaries include priorities, needs, responsibilities, and gauging if a relationship leaves you feeling good or drained.

Set realistic goals. Sit down and take the time to set specific goals you would like to achieve. Some simple goals include starting a new hobby or throwing your interest behind a personal project.

Practice compassion for yourself. Compassion is one of the most important things one can do for themselves. Don’t give yourself a hard time; explore replacing negative self-talk with positive sayings and quotes. Doing so means you will increase your self-love by replacing complacency with compassion.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is tossed about quite a bit nowadays, but what is it really? Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware and present at the moment you live in, not dwelling on the future nor ruminating on the past. Mindfulness requires focusing on yourself and your needs.

Mindfulness involves awareness of your emotions, thoughts, and surroundings without judgment or reaction to them. The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be practiced anywhere, such as during meditation or while doing everyday things such as walking or working.

Being mindful helps people avoid destructive and automatic responses and habits to promote cognitive awareness and enhance attention.

Mindfulness is often used as a tool to manage a person’s well-being, with some calling it an enhancement to their mental health. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown to aid with many mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, addiction, stress, and some physical problems such as high blood pressure or chronic pain.

Your Brain On Mindfulness

Chronic stress, such as is experienced by those who struggle with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, impairs brain function in many ways. Stress can disrupt synapse regulation (brain cell connections regulation), resulting in the death of brain cells and reducing the brain’s size.

Chronic stress also changes your brain, making you more prone to developing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.

Stress changes the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is involved in interpreting danger and feeling emotions such as fear. The hippocampus is responsible for memory consolidation, and the prefrontal cortex is involved in memory and learning. Chronic stress shrinks the prefrontal cortex and can decrease the size of the amygdala, making the brain even more receptive to further stress.

Many complex post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms come from brain damage to these three brain regions.

Mindfulness Can Aide in Healing a Mental Health Disorder

As we have discussed, chronic stress can lead to one forming a mental health problem. Mindfulness is a tool to manage one’s well-being and mental health. Growing research has suggested the many benefits of mindfulness in helping people remain grounded and increase their self-esteem.

Many mental health disorders respond well to mindfulness and have several positive aspects of treating the whole person, including their mind, brain, behavior, and body, and help in personal relationships with others.

Because of its benefits, mindfulness is recommended to treat those with common mental health problems such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Some people respond well to the use of mindfulness to overcome addiction and eating disorders.

Growing evidence suggests that mindfulness-based therapies might prevent relapse in those with major depressive disorder.

Mindfulness Can Hurt

Mindfulness is a valuable tool to decrease stress, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people, especially those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), experience increased stress levels, negative emotions, and insomnia.

Mindfulness has this effect because memories of the past can surface, causing you to reexperience traumatic events. Mindfulness can also amplify other problems in vulnerable people, especially those who are prone to depression or psychosis.

Unfortunately, mindfulness causes extreme emotional disengagement (emotional numbness) in some people, causing them to no longer experience negative or positive emotions.

Mindfulness can lay bare wounds and cause one to experience intense flashbacks.

However, the benefits of mindfulness to people cannot be overemphasized; with therapy, even those who have lived through hell can benefit from it.

Mindfulness Can Help Chronic Pain

Chronic pain causes more Americans misery than other diseases such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes. 1 in 6 Americans experiences chronic pain daily, with 40 million experiencing severe pain and 20 million having pain that regularly inhibits their life activities.

Mindfulness exercises help you focus on your mind and body in the moment without judgment. Just for that moment, your body will relax, and you’ll feel the pain at ease.

Mindfulness can help people by:

  • Decreasing repetitive thinking
  • Improve emotional flexibility
  • Reduce rumination
  • Enhancing self-compassion
  • Making the brain less sensitive to pain
  • Increasing the use of the brain’s naturally occurring pain-reducing opioids

Mindfulness does not replace medical advice or medicines your doctor prescribes but can enhance their effectiveness.

Ending Our Time Together

Mindfulness, while not for everyone, is a tremendous tool in fighting chronic stress and depression. Depending on how far they are in treatment, it may or may not help treat people who have experienced complex trauma.

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t take any special equipment or knowledge to perform, although it may be best to ask your therapist about the best way for you to do it.

In my own life, becoming more aware of the moment has been a life-changing experience. Before practicing mindfulness, I was overrun and overwhelmed by the complex trauma that kept me worrying about the future and firmly lodged in the past.

When I began to practice remaining in the moment and allowing myself to relax, I overcame many of my stress responses. No longer am I trapped in a world filled with dissociation and depression. Yes, I do occasionally experience both, but I dissociate and am depressed much less than I did before practicing mindfulness.

If you try mindfulness and find you are overcome with flashbacks to the past, leave it for now and consult your therapist. You may need more time to reconcile your past, and there is no shame in that.

There is no doubt that mindfulness can aid you in healing from mental health issues, but you must be patient. Just as you didn’t get sick overnight, you will not heal overnight either.

Good luck with your healing through your mindfulness journey.

“Mindfulness can help people of any age. That’s because we become what we think.” – Goldie Hawn.

“Buddhist mindfulness is about the present, but I also think it’s about being real. Being awake to everything. Feeling like nothing can hurt you if you can look it straight on.”- Krista Tippett.