What it is
Mindfulness skills are a way for us to build internal awareness. They allow us to see our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations without being attached or identifying with them. One way of looking at it is sitting on the beach and watching the waves come in and out versus being in the waves and being thrown around by them. Being on the beach is a much calmer spot to be, and you don’t worry about drowning. Mindfulness lets you sit on the beach. Mindfulness also allows you to sit with emotions and thoughts rather than avoid them.
How it works
One way to explain mindfulness skills is being able to understand the 3 levels of awareness we tend to be in. The middle level (or the main floor), is where we are continually using our brain which creates thoughts and emotions in order to problem solve how to survive in everyday life, whether that be physical, social, or occupational. Living on the main floor and being in continual problem solving mode can be exhausting and so we will often drop down to the lower level of awareness, (the basement). In the lower level is where we numb out, we escape the exhaustion of problem solving and try to give our brains a break. With the numbing out mode there can be healthy and unhealthy ways of numbing out. Healthy may be appropriate sleep or watching a few episodes of your favorite show. Unhealthy numbing out may be things like addictive behaviors. We will discuss more the healthy ways of numbing out versus unhealthy ways when we talk about distraction tools. The highest level of awareness (the upstairs), is unique because we are not numbing out but we are not completely intertwined with our thoughts and emotions either. We can see them from a distance, and not become distressed when they appear.
When we are in the mindfulness mode we also get the mental break we need from the problem solving mode. And this can cause greater peace and ability to handle stressful challenges. Since our thoughts and emotions are more distant from us we do not feel as much pressure to react to them. This makes it easier for us to A.see other options to a scenario, and B.help us determine which action will be healthiest for us. In other words the greater ability we have for mindfulness the greater ability we have to see and make a choice.
When to use
Mindfulness skills can be effective for whenever we appear to be stuck in our head. If we have racing thoughts, anxiety, depression, anger, and continual worry, mindfulness can help us disconnect from the emotions and thoughts, but not avoid them. If we continually try to avoid difficult thoughts and emotions we tend to struggle more with them, but mindfulness can help us relate differently to them so they are not as powerful to us. Often we may have a thought like, “I’m not good enough.” and this thought will hook us and sink us where we will feel bad for a couple hours or maybe the whole day. Mindfulness helps us to get unhooked from these thoughts.
Defusion techniques are simple and quick ways that help us to take a step back from difficult "hooking" thoughts, and be able to see them as just thoughts. It helps us to realize the thought we are having is not the literal truth, but more something that our brain made up. Here's a few good quick and simple techniques which can help disarm and "unhook" a difficult thought.
Funny Voice When you have a difficult thought say it out loud in a silly voice.
Example: Character’s voice (Donald Duck, Darth Vader), high pitched, or foreign accent.
Naming your Brain Give your brain a name (such as George) and when a thought comes up act as if your brain is saying the thought.
Example: George is saying “___________”.
Singing the thought Sing the thought out loud to a catchy tune.
Example: Happy Birthday or Mary had a Little Lamb.
Writing Write a thought or emotion out on a piece of paper, and write it in a funny or weird way and color, ad graphics or flare to the word.
Defusion Techniques are from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy