Ask the Expert: The Importance of Mindfulness
Q: What is mindfulness and why is it so important?
A: Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and is used as a therapeutic technique. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is the creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, has defined mindfulness as “paying attention to our lives, moment by moment, on purpose, in a certain way, and without judgment.”
In other words, mindfulness is staying focused on being in the now, the moment you are currently in, and not perseverating over the past (it’s finished) or the anticipation of the future (it has not occurred yet). It is the process of practicing paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, sensations, environment/atmosphere around you and learning to be significantly present.
Research has shown many benefits to engaging in mindfulness practices that promote awareness. Some of these benefits include: focus, stress reduction, rumination/perseverative decrease, improved working memory, less emotionally reactive, increase cognitive flexibility, more satisfaction in relationships, etc. In addition to cognitive and emotional benefits, there are also many physiological and physical benefits as a result of mindfulness based practices that can include: decrease in tension, increase in endurance/energy levels, treating heart disease, lower blood pressure, improve sleep, pain decrease, balance, posture and strengthen immune, autonomic, nervous and endocrine systems.
Some symptoms that can be alleviated through mindfulness practices include mind wandering, rumination/perseveration, multitasking, distractibility, predisposition to emotionally react/lack of impulse control, unhappiness, feeling overwhelmed/stressed, self-focused, lack of time management and being unorganized. Mindfulness helps one to self-regulate. As a society, we have become accustomed to always thinking and keeping our minds busy, whereas we now need to learn to not think so much and learn to be present in our lives that we are currently living. Mindfulness is the perfect tool to help us achieve that goal, especially since practice is individualized.
There has been quite a bit of research that has demonstrated the negative effects of chronic stress. Stress impacts one’s mind, body, emotions and behavior. There is a significant role that perception has in stress levels; stress is associated with that which we aspire to and value. Being a caregiver, professional, and/or an individual on the autism spectrum, can directly impact levels of stress. Whether it be anxiety, burnout, depression, chronic stress, chronic fatigue, etc., these can negatively impact one’s physical and emotional health. One cannot do their best unless they are at their best, which is why mindfulness-based practices and self-care is so important.
More on this important topic to appear next month including how mindfulness specifically benefits children with autism.
-Stacy Blecher and Natalie Copleand
Stacy Blecher, MA, ATR, CMP, is an Art Therapist at Positive Education Program (PEP) Prentiss Autism Center. She received her Master of Art Therapy from Ursuline College and has been working with individuals diagnosed with autism for the past 13 years.
Natalie Copeland, ASISC, is a Behavior Support Specialist at Positive Education Program (PEP) Prentiss Autism Center. She is currently completing her Master of Science in Social Administration at Case Western Reserve University and has been working with individuals diagnosed with autism and their families for the past 12 years.
Stacy and Natalie jointly presented a workshop titled, “Train Your Brain: Keep Calm and Practice Mindfulness” at Milestones 15th Annual Conference this past June.