Why Mindfulness is Important for Anxiety, Sadness and Any Other Negative Emotion

By Amy Kim, Psy.D.

Mindfulness, or the practice of paying attention in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way, is essential for reducing feelings of worry, tension, sadness and irritability. Why? Because feelings are more than just what you feel--underlying every emotion is a thought, physiological sensation, and accompanying behavior that drives that feeling. The practice of mindfulness helps a person to become aware of what exactly is contributing to or maintaining uncomfortable or painful feelings.

While the term mindfulness has been popularized in our culture and the field of psychology, I think the word awareness better captures what it means to be mindful. To be present or mindful, you need to first be aware—aware of internal and external senses and experiences, including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and behaviors that may be keeping you from being fully present, whether you are with a lover, friend or by yourself, and no matter what you are doing, whether sitting in front of a computer, spending time with family, moving your body, or eating. Being aware gives you freedom to simply be, rather than allowing each moment to be hijacked by every whim, emotion, thought, or perceived pressure to do.

Eckhart Tolle has beautifully demonstrated that all you have is this moment. Life is comprised of one moment after another moment, ad infinitum, and your life is never not this moment right now. So if you are missing the richness of this moment, then you are missing your life. People have tendencies that obstruct their ability to be present and it’s important to become aware of the habits that rob you of the richness of each moment (or your life!). Therapy can help a person to develop awareness of patterns that not only feed anxiety or sadness, but also keep a person from fully living. Awareness is quite magical, in that simply bringing awareness to something immediately dissipates its intensity and power over you. And in that moment, you have the choice of whether to follow that pull for your attention. You can choose what you direct your attention to, and there is no better choice than to direct your attention to this moment in its fullness. Only then are you actually living.