Counseling Austin Blog

The Dark Side of Mindfulness and How to Deal With it

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Mindfulness is becoming more and more familiar to people around the world. A mindfulness practice is a great way to improve your outlook and quality of life, but there can be a dark side that sometimes needs to be demystified so people don’t get tripped up by it.

Remember, mindfulness is simply being aware of reality as-is without adding judgments or assumptions. This means noticing the wonderful times like when we feel happy, content, loving, excited, etc. But it also means noticing the not-so-good times from a neutral perspective; where you see pain as nothing more than a warning system activation. It’s not that the pain doesn’t hurt . . . you’re not supposed to enjoy it, but instead of suffering and making it get worse, you use mindfulness of the pain to help you figure out what it’s trying to help you change. For example, if you put your hand on a candle flame, there is a resulting obnoxious burning pain; it is trying to help you in 3 ways:

  1. Get your hand off the flame
  2. Put your burnt hand under cool running water
  3. Help you remember to not put your hand into the fire again

See? The pain (burning) wants to help you stop hurting yourself, heal the injury, and prevent it from happening again.

The dark side

The dark side of the otherwise beneficial side to discomfort is that we can get so aware of the pain that we get sucked into it and forget to enjoy the good things. People that struggle with depression and anxiety can sometimes get carried away with noticing what the depression or anxiety feels like and wind up getting pulled into the quagmire of despair.

Bringing back the light

So how do we deal with this? First, notice it. In other words, become mindful of it. In the beginning, you’ll typically see it after the fact. With practice, you’ll know what it feels like to get sucked in and will recognize it as it happens and be able to shift into a healthier practice.

Prevention of darkness keeps the lighter side around

In terms of prevention, be sure to intentionally practice gratitude, compassion, kindness, and optimism several times per day.

Healing after the darkness has already occurred

When you look back and see that it happened already, use those same practices to counter-balance the darkness. Physical activity and/or being social are also great ways to pull up from it. Many people find comedy a useful tool.  I like watching the best of Steve Harvey on Family Feud. Even in my worst moods, I cannot help but laugh at that stuff!

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