“Mindfulness” is defined as the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not be overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. We often associate mindfulness with actions of finding your inner peace – such as meditation, resting, taking a break from our social media platforms, me time, being mindful of what you eat, letting go of toxic people in your life.
In our current society, the message of “mindfulness” has been talked about more often than not . However, we need to understand that caring for our mental health involves more than just the ability to be in a state of mindfulness.
Mindfulness, as defined by the American Psychological Association, refers to “…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment. In this sense, mindfulness is a state and not a trait.” According to Headspace, mindfulness does not necessarily eliminate our stress or other difficulties that we are going through. Instead, by becoming aware of unpleasant thoughts and emotions that arise because of said situations, we allow ourselves the choice in how we can handle them — and a better chance of reacting calmly and empathetically when faced with these challenges.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn pioneered the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). It centers on the idea that a flexible range of mindfulness practices can be used to aid those who are dealing with the difficulties of stress and anxiety-related mental illness. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is also a group program, used to help those with recurring depression to reduce their symptoms and prevent relapse. MBCT involves both cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness practices, such as mindful breathing and meditation. Acceptance plays a central part of MBCT, in that participants learn how to re-frame, rather than eliminate their feelings. From these initiatives, we can see how mindfulness has the ability to contribute towards a person’s mental health.
But let’s not get confused here.
Although being mindful does contribute to a good mental state, mindfulness and mental health are not one and the same.
Just because we are able to maintain our peace, it does not necessarily mean that the root of our issues are solved. The New Straits Times recently did an exclusive interview with Tengku Puteri Iman Afzan, who is also the royal patron of the Mental Illness Awareness and Support Association (MIASA) in Malaysia. When asked on how can young people train themselves to be mentally agile, she spoke on the importance of keeping mentally well: through eating properly, getting sufficient rest, staying active, and being kind to ourselves. She also emphasises that these actions are to go hand-in-hand with the availability of mental health support provided by counsellors, therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.
When someone has the courage to speak out about their struggles with their mental health, do not let your first response be “you don’t look like someone who would be struggling” nor the need to quick-fix. Instead, let us learn to understand that such struggles are valid and hear them out. Let us learn to affirm the courage it takes to confide in someone, in turn, contributing towards a safe and supportive space. Mental health literacy is still a concern. Let us take steps to be equipped with knowledge, create further awareness, and not let people feel so alone in their struggles.