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Mindfulness and Letting Go

Jeannie Minchin

Clinical Psychology (Registrar), Psychotherapist

Do you get so caught up with your thoughts that you are unable to do the things you most want to do?

Do you over-analyse situations to the point where it’s unhelpful to you?

Do you struggle to let go of upsetting thoughts even though you know that letting go would be helpful?

Imagine if you could just watch your thoughts from a distance without evaluating them as good or bad, positive or negative – just see them for what they are – thoughts not facts. Accepting that your feelings cannot harm you, they are just uncomfortable.

Recent research is showing that mindfulness practice may be of benefit to wellbeing, mental health, and physical health. It is proving to be a powerful tool to deal with many issues such as:

  • stress,
  • anxiety,
  • depression and rumination,
  • sleep,
  • eating,
  • substance abuse,
  • anger,
  • interpersonal relationships,

as well as helping to develop:

  • empathy,
  • self-compassion,
  • focus and concentration,
  • insight and self-awareness.

The literature shows that mindfulness practice is beneficial to adults, adolescents and children, with some schools teaching and incorporating mindfulness skills into the school setting. Although this type of research is still in its infancy, some studies have shown findings supporting changes in brain structure and neural pathways. (NOTE: all these research papers are listed at the bottom of this paper).

Many people lead such busy lives that we often forget how to slow down and do only one thing... We run from one task to another, barely stopping for breath between them. And when we do lots of things at once, it’s stressful. Are we really being as effective as we could be?

This may be why mindfulness practice is becoming more widely used and researched than ever before.

So what is mindfulness exactly?

Have you ever watched a tennis player stop and pause just before they serve? Or a football player stop to focus just before they kick at goal? These are moments of complete focus in the moment - mindfulness. Clearing their minds of distractions so that they can perform as best they can, right there and then.

Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose to the present moment without judgment.

Each time you become aware that your thoughts or feelings have taken you away from what is happening in the present moment, you are developing focus and concentration.

Each time you become aware that your mind has taken you away, and you gently guide it back to the present moment, you are developing the skill of letting go and self-compassion.

Each time you become aware of where your mind has taken you, you are developing insight and self-awareness into your patterns of thinking.

There are many opportunities for being mindful every waking moment. This may be as simple as stopping and purposefully taking three deep breaths, focusing on each in-breath, and each out-breath, before you walk into a meeting; or a long mindful meditation each day lasting for 30 or 40 minutes.

Mindfulness needs regular practice. Think of it as building a “mindfulness-muscle”. If, the first time you try it, you last for 30 seconds without your mind wandering off, then you are doing well. Remember, it doesn’t matter how often your mind wanders off, mindfulness occurs in the moment you become aware that your mind has wandered. If your mind wanders off 1000 times, gently acknowledge it 1000 times, and bring your attention back to the present moment 1000 times. With regular practice, you will get better and better at doing this.

Some Simple Mindfulness Exercises for Busy People

Letting Go with Three Breaths

(do not hold your breath)

  1. Take a deep breath in, and notice your lungs expanding...
    Breathe out and say to yourself “let go....” as you empty your lungs,
  2. Just pause.... and when you notice that your body naturally wants to take another breath, take another even deeper breath, noticing your lungs expanding even more...
    Breathe out again and say to yourself “let go....”
  3. Pause.... and notice the natural urge to take another, third breath. To inhale deeply....exhale...and let go one final time.

Using Your Breath as an Anchor

  1. 1. Sit (or lie) in a comfortable position.
  2. 2. Close your eyes if you choose, or fix your eyes softly on a spot in front of you.
  3. Start by focusing all your attention on your left nostril as you breathe in...
  4. Then focus all your attention on your right nostril as you breathe out...
  5. There is no need to adjust your breathing rhythm in any way.
  6. Breathe in through your left nostril....
  7. And out through your right nostril....
  8. Continue to do this, noticing if your mind wanders, and gently bringing it back to your breath.

This can last as long as you choose to do it.

Circuit Breaker (for REALLY busy people)

This is for people who literally feel like they run from one task to another, with barely a moment to take a breath.

And it’s really easy:

...all you have to do is finish one task, then purposefully STOP your thoughts, take one deep breath in and out to act as a reminder that the task is finished...before purposely starting the next task.

If you would like to learn more about how mindfulness might be useful to you, please contact Jeannie on 0406 033 644 or jeannie@jeannieminchin.com.au

Jeannie Minchin
Clinical Psychology (Registrar), Registered Psychologist, Psychotherapist

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mount Lawley, WA 6050

Click here to go to Jeannie’s page

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Research

For those of you interested in reading the research, you might like to start with these papers.

Mindfulness and Wellbeing

  • Chiesa, A. & Serretti, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 15(5), 593-600.
  • Dekeyser, M., Raes, F., Leijssen, M., Leysen, S., & Dewulf, D. (2008). Mindfulness skills and interpersonal behaviour. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(5), 1235-1245.
  • Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57(1), 35-43.
  • Tang, Y., et al. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self- regulation. PNAS, 104(43), 17152-17156.
  • Carson, J., et al. (2004). Mindfulness-Based Relationship Enhancement. Behavior Therapy, 35, 471-494.
  • Barnes, S., et al. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and response to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 482-500.
  • Beddoe, A. & Murphy, S. (2004). Does Mindfulness Decrease Stress and Foster Empathy Among Nursing Students? Journal of Nursing Education, 43(7), 305-312.
  • Shapiro, S., et al. (2005). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Health Care Professionals: Results from a Randomized Trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(2), 164- 176.

Mindfulness and Mental Health

  • Chiesa, A. & Serretti, A. (2011). Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for psychiatric disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, 187(3), 441-453
  • Kluepfel, L., Ward, T., Yehuda, R., Dimoulas, E., Smith A., & Daly, K.(2013) The evaluation of mindfulness-based stress reduction for veterans with mental health conditions. Journal of Holistic Nursing. [Epub ahead of print].
  • Marchand, W. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 18(4), 233-252.
  • Zgierska, A., Rabago, D., Chawla, N., Kushner, K., Koehler, R., & Marlatt, A. (2009). Mindfulness meditation for substance use disorders: A systematic review. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 266-294.

Mindfulness and Physical Health

  • Bohlmeijer, E., Prenger, R., Taal, E., & Cuijpers, P. (2010). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy on mental health of adults with a chronic medical disease: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 68(6), 539-544.
  • Ledesma, D. & Kumano, H. (2009). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and cancer: A meta- analysis. Psycho-oncology, 18(6), 571-579.
  • Vago, D.R. & Nakamura, Y. (2011). Selective attentional bias towards pain-related threat in fibromyalgia: preliminary evidence for effects of mindfulness meditation training. Cognitive Therapy Research, 35(6), 581-594.
  • Winbush, N. Y., Gross, C. R., & Kreitzer, M. J. (2007). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on sleep disturbance: A systematic review. Explore, 3(6), 585-591.

Mindfulness and School Children

  • Napoli, M., Krech, P., & Holley, L. (2005). Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students: The Attention Academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99-125.
  • Wall, R. (2005). Tai Chi and mindfulness-based stress reduction in a Boston Public Middle School. Journal of Pediatric Health Care, 19(4), 230-237.
  • Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., Ishijima, E., & Kasari, C. (under review). Mindful awareness practices improve executive function in elementary school children.
  • Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Dang, J., Cho, J., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J. & Kasari, C. (2008, April). A mindful awareness practice improves executive function in preschool children. Poster presented at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society 6th Annual Conference, Worcester, MA.




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