Essentially, mindfulness is a form of meditation that has been adopted by CBT. CBT in turn is ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’; a psychotherapeutic approach that can be used to treat all manner of psychological conditions like anxiety, phobias, addiction etc.
Mindfulness essentially gives us a tool that we can use to not only calm our thoughts and escape the stressors of the day but also reflect on the contents of our mind in the interests of self-improvement.
Meditation generally has something of a ‘bad’ reputation. That is to say that a lot of people associate it with religion or esoteric ideas and they think that they can’t meditate unless they’re ‘spiritual’. This can be off-putting for someone who doesn’t hold any religious beliefs or who doesn’t like esoteric ideas in general.
But in fact you can practice meditation whether you are religious or an atheist. All meditation really is, is a directed attempt to control your thoughts and the content of your mind and thereby to gain some peace and quiet or at least to be able to better understand the contents of your own brain.
Often this means completely silencing all thoughts. Many types of meditation, such as transcendental meditation, instruct you to think of ‘absolutely nothing’ and often this is achieved by focussing on your breathing, a mantra or a physical object like a candle flame. This can be difficult for beginners though, as they constantly find their mind wandering.
The idea behind mindfulness meditation then is not to try and empty your thoughts but instead to simply step back from them and ‘observe’ them like a detached third party. This way, you aren’t letting your thoughts affect you and make you stressed but you also aren’t going to struggle with not being ‘allowed’ to think anything.
Meanwhile, using this technique will also allow you to become more aware of your own thoughts and thereby able to edit any thoughts that are leading you into trouble. For instance, if you constantly find yourself thinking about the ways that you could hurt yourself, you might notice that this is a bad habit and then attempt to fix that.
This may be the long term aim of mindfulness when used in CBT. In the short term though, we are simply to use it in order to remove ourselves from our thoughts and emotions so that we can get some calm and thereby recover ready to tackle the day ahead.