What is mindfulness?
An ancient practice that’s been around for centuries, "mindfulness", originally derived from Eastern spiritual traditions, is now ubiquitous in the West. It’s essentially the art of cultivating attention and awareness of yourself and of the present moment—being in touch with what is, in the here and now. Often using the breath as a focal point, mindfulness meditation involves observing your own thoughts, sensory experiences, and feelings without judging or resisting them. It’s possible to practice being mindful in virtually any situation, though mindfulness usually comes most easily to beginners in solitude and quiet.
When cultivated as a regular practice, mindfulness has been found to produce a wide range of effects on stress levels, mental clarity, emotions, and more. Among those navigating psychiatric drug withdrawal, some find that mindfulness can make difficult physical, mental and emotional experiences feel less overwhelming and allows uncomfortable feelings or ruminative thoughts to "pass through" them more easily. Others find that it enables them to simply "be present" with symptoms such as agitation or pain without trying to escape from them. Some report that after practicing mindfulness they more readily notice any small, positive sensations that may be emerging, which can offer moments of encouragement in their healing process.
Should you be trying out mindfulness for the first time during withdrawal, be aware that it’s not uncommon to have a hard time focusing. Some people suggest keeping the initial sessions short, maybe five or ten minutes or so, or even less. The idea is that practicing for a brief time daily, then building up to longer sessions if you feel inclined, may offer more benefit than attempting longer sessions at the outset that are harder to sustain. Many also report that following a guided meditation audio or video that teaches the basics of mindfulness can be helpful when first learning the practice. At the same time, mindfulness is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and some people who find it too difficult or uncomfortable simply put it aside in favor of another coping technique.
Where can I find more information?
There are many, many resources available on mindfulness meditation—books, websites, YouTube videos, apps—and what works best for any individual is largely a matter of personal preference. Below are just a few possibilities. An online search (which can be customized to an area of interest—e.g., “mindfulness for anxiety” or “mindfulness for sleep”) will yield a bounty of possibilities. You may also wish to look for workshops, meet-ups, or courses in your community.
- Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life by Jon Kabat-Zinn offers an introduction to the practice.
- This Guided Mindfulness "Sitting Meditation" by Jon Kabat Zinn is one of countless YouTube selections providing a guided introduction to mindfulness meditation.
- The Calm app and website offers free introductory sessions in mindfulness meditation as well subscription-based programs.
- The Headspace app and website, free for the first ten days, presents ten-minute, user-friendly guided sessions in mindfulness meditation.