Each of us has a different lifestyle, different experiences and different ambitions. Fortunately, there are more ways of learning mindfulness than you will ever need. There will certainly be a way for you to learn mindfulness skills within your current circumstances.
Classes and workshops are popular, they teach you various forms of mindfulness meditation. For many, these can be great. You can get support within the group as you develop your skills. These are the equivalent of going to the gym when you want to get your body fit and strong. Mindfulness classes help to develop mental strength, focus and flexibility.
For mindfulness to be most effective you need to bring it into your life. Imagine doing a job that was physically demanding; if you were lifting heavy weights every day then you would develop muscle strength far faster than simply by going to a gym once a week. Consider that having problems like anxiety, depression gives you the opportunity to practice mindfulness daily.
There are countless free resources on the Internet to teach you mindfulness, many of which can be great. They’re worth exploring, finding ones that fit with you. Whether that’s guided meditations, visualisations, apps for your phone or whatever, it’s what works for you that counts.
If you find that you often get carried away in difficult thoughts, or caught up in strong emotions, constantly struggling with them, then perhaps now is the time to reach out and get some help.
Today there are many therapists and coaches using mindfulness approaches to helping people with conditions like anxiety and depression. An approach with good evidence for effectiveness is called ACT, which is an abbreviation of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It is an approach to therapy that has mindfulness at its core, rather than one of the older therapies that have just added mindfulness on. With ACT, you’re not going to sit there week after week talking about your past whilst the therapist tries to figure out what went wrong with you. Sure, there will be some fleeting memories of the past; however, most of the time you’ll be exploring new skills, developing those skills, and starting to understand how anxiety is working for you and how to change your response to it.
Because ACT is so different from what most clients expect or have encountered, a typical ACT therapist would ask you to commit to 6 sessions. They know it will take a little time to shift your thinking to the new mindfulness approach. It does take a while for you to start realising the benefits you’re gaining. Typically though, about 12 sessions can be a good number for most people, although for some clients one or two sessions is enough for what they need; other clients keep coming back week after week for years because they want to build on what they’re experiencing. It’s all about what’s working for each individual client, not what some theory says they should go through.
ACT is not a process you’re put through and then told you’re ‘cured’. It’s a dynamic relationship between you and your therapist or therapy group. Don’t think of therapy as the Hollywood idea of people lying on a couch talking to a doctor behind them, or what you see on the Sopranos. Today it’s an engaged conversation between you and the therapist. The therapist often is more of a coach or teacher, whilst at other times they are there to listen; they’re not putting themselves on a pedestal knowing what’s best for you. Instead you work together as a team to improve your life.
An ACT therapist is going to spend a little time talking to you about your problems – they do care deeply – and finding out what you want. Then they’ll help you put together strategies and skills to help you change. The focus is helping you to develop the ways of thinking, and building new skills so you can move towards a richer and more fulfilling life. Sessions are dynamic and usually light-hearted rather than getting dug deep into strong emotions with nowhere to go with them. Sure, there will be times you experience intense emotions when with a therapist; however, you don’t get ‘stuck’ in them and you’re only doing that so you can learn to change your relationship to these thoughts.
Today you don’t even need to be in the same city as a therapist to work with them. We have Skype online calls and we have the telephone. This can be as effective as being in the same room. Some of my clients who live in the same city as I choose to use Skype rather than visit – either because they’re busy or they don’t have the time to commute.