“Mindfulness,” in psychology, refers to activities and practices intended to bring your attention and awareness into the present moment. The aim is to be aware of your body, mind, and surroundings without judgment.
It is also a term that has been thrown around to the point that much of the original meaning has gotten lost. Employers promoting “wellness initiatives” (which is boss-speak for “don’t say we never did anything for you”) promote it as an antidote to burnout, and the “Wellness Industry” sells it as a cure-all for your mental health woes.
Misuse of “mindfulness” has gotten to the point that therapists are sometimes cautious about using the word. “Have you tried mindfulness?” has a similar feel to “Have you tried meditating?” or “Have you tried going outside?” It gets sold as a magical cure-all, which does a disservice to clients who might actually benefit from some mindfulness practices.
There are many valid circumstances in which a person might not want to be more in tune with their situation. If you experience chronic pain, mental health issues, or are, say, living through a pandemic, you might not enjoy becoming more in tune with the present moment. That is why mindfulness by itself is not only unhelpful, but can actually be harmful to bring yourself more into the present without any follow up or support to cope with that present moment.
In my practice, mindfulness exercises are just a first step. It’s a way to gather data that can help us tease out what needs and supports would be beneficial. It can help trauma survivors notice their triggers, or those who struggle with regulation start to notice a feeling before it gets too big to manage. It can help children learn what different emotions feel like so they can communicate effectively.
For some, mindfulness activities can be helpful on their own. Bringing awareness to the present moment can pull someone out of a flashback or help with reality testing. But most of the time, it is a starting point.
If you find mindfulness activities helpful, great! If not, that is okay too – no one solution is right for everyone. But if it has been presented to you as a cure-all, this is an oversimplification that does a disservice to anyone who might benefit from being more present and attentive to themselves.