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Mindfulness and Mental Health

Submitted by tracy.greene on

By Kylie Sligar, B.S., Doctoral Intern, UT Southwestern Moncrief Cancer Institute

It’s likely you have heard of mindfulness. This seems to be the newest trend regarding self-care and wellness. Although we can’t be mindful all the time, we can try to increase the amount of mindful moments we have each day. Mindfulness isn’t a cure all and it might not be for everyone, but it has been found to be helpful with: 

  • attention/concentration
  • sleep 
  • relaxation
  • improving our connections to others
  • managing strong emotions/ pain/stress
  • helping to prevent burnout

What does mindfulness mean and how do you “do mindfulness?” At its core, mindfulness consists of three major concepts:

1. Present moment awareness – Being present means just that – paying attention to what is happening right here, right now. It means being in tune with what is happening inside you and in your environment. Hint — this means we might have to let go of our mental and physical multi-tasking habits. (The good thing is science says we can’t multi-task effectively anyway!) 

Try it: What is going on for you right now? Check in with yourself and your immediate surroundings. What do you notice? What do you hear, feel, see, taste, or even smell?

2. Mind/body connection – Our bodies are always in the present moment. For example, your body is in the “now” – most likely sitting and reading this on a computer or phone screen. However, our minds often live in the past or present. While your body is here, your mind might be thinking “What’s for dinner?” “What will my doctor say tomorrow?” “Did I add toilet paper to the grocery list?” “I wish I had spoken up during my work meeting yesterday.” For us to be mindful, we need to connect our mind and body together in the present moment

Try it: Shift your attention to your body and name three physical sensations you are experiencing right now. Where does your mind wander? Can you bring your mind and body together in the present moment, and focus on the three physical sensations you are experiencing in the present moment?

3. Acceptance, without judgment or criticism – This one can be challenging! Our mind has the tendency to judge, criticize, or evaluate almost everything that is going on in our mind/environment. Being mindful means taking an objective look at our thoughts and experience, without judgment. Simply state what is occurring or what you are observing, without trying to change anything or judge what you are observing. Just observe. 

Try it: Take one full minute to notice each thought that pops into your mind. Don’t change these thoughts and don’t judge them. Just simply acknowledge them, as you would floats on a parade route or clouds in the sky.

To learn more about mindfulness and how to practice it, explore the links below. Additionally, there are many free mindful apps and YouTube videos waiting to be discovered.

UCLA Health Mindful Awareness Research Center

UC San Diego School of Medicine, Center of Mindfulness