How Mindfulness Can Actually Exacerbate Some Mental Illnesses

The concept of mindfulness and mindful meditation is taking the mental health community by storm. Although most believe that you cannot have too much of a good thing it is possible for certain practices to exacerbate mental illness. Mindfulness is one of these practices. It seems beneficial at first because of its According to Time Magazine, some types of meditative treatments including mindfulness, can actually exacerbate mental illness. In order to understand how mindfulness can be detrimental to mental illness, you have to know what it is, how it helps, and how it can make things worse.

What is Mindfulness

meditation for mental health

Mindfulness and meditation may be harmful to people struggling with certain mental illnesses.

Mindfulness is the practice of living in the moment. According to the Help Guide at Harvard Medical School, it involves realizing where you are, what you have, and accepting it without judgment. This is an ancient Buddhist concept and some researchers are saying that it part of the key to happiness. There are different ways to practice mindfulness, which include:

  • Meditative mindfulness – sitting quietly and focusing on breathing. This is the most basic type and usually involves a mantra of some type. The mantra is individual to you but normally produces a specific relaxing frequency.
  • Sensory mindfulness – actively noticing what you are feeling. This is a crucial part of practicing mindfulness because it allows you to discover all physical sensations both good and bad.
    • Body sensations – is noticing what your body is doing.
    • Tactile – slightly different from body sensations, tactile mindfulness focuses on what you are feeling such as feeling every itch, your close on your skin, and not judging each sensation. This is different from body sensations – in body sensations you are looking at the body as a whole.
    • Pure sensory – noticing everything that you are feeling, seeing, and smelling without assigning a good or bad label to them.
  • Emotional mindfulness – taking out and feeling every emotion, relaxing and naming all of the emotions you are feeling individually, even taking in the ones that you can’t specifically name.
  • Urge mindfulness – this is particularly useful to people who are addicted to a drug or behavior. It involves you feeling and recognizing your cravings. Once you recognized them you can work through them in a constructive manner.

There are many other types of mindfulness that go along with meditation and other relaxation practices. The core concept of mindfulness is being present and recognizing the moment.

How is Mindfulness Helpful

Mindfulness helps in different ways. The help that it provides depends on the situation and type of mindfulness. Mindfulness helps:

  • reduce stress – by realizing what is happening you can hopefully come up with a solution,
  • treats heart disease – by calming yourself and paying attention to your circulation you can improve your heart’s condition,
  • lowers blood pressure – as it reduces stress level it also reduces blood pressure by the same mechanism, and
  • some mental illnesses.

It is important to remember that most of the benefits of mindfulness play off one another. This means that while it is reducing stress it also reduces stress related high blood pressure and because stress levels and blood pressure are lowered it helps with heart disease. These compound benefits are extremely beneficial to those who have multiple issues.

How can Mindfulness Exacerbate Mental Illness

Like any treatment, mindfulness can make some conditions worse. Typically, mindfulness is looked at as a good thing but what happens when it goes too far. Part of the mindfulness scenario is to feel emotions both positive and negative. It can also lead to a cycle of “what ifs.” This is the cycle where everything is possible including everything bad. For someone suffering from mental illness this can lead to a downward spiral of thought.

Some people get stuck in mindfulness. They need guidance to get out of their mindset. The meditation just leads to being stuck on a thought, trauma, or experience.

What Types of Mental Illness is Mindfulness Good For

Mindfulness is good for a variety of mental illnesses. It helps people relax and view their life and circumstance from a slower more calm perspective. Mindfulness forces you to stop and take a look from outside of the situation. Sometimes it gives perspective, while other times it just helps as a calming influence. Some of the mental illnesses it helps are:

These are just a few issues that mindfulness might help. Whether it is helpful or not depends on the individual. No one can predict if the therapy works for specific person.

What Types of Mental Illness is Mindfulness Harmful For

Like most treatments, mindfulness is just as capable of being harmful as it is of working. Unfortunately, mindfulness does not help a few conditions.

  • Post traumatic stress disorder – mindfulness can be very harmful to someone with PTSD. Although it is good to remember and deal with a trauma, it can be too much all at once for the patient. The mind blocks and avoids certain details to protect itself. Practicing mindfulness might bring these details to light and cause additional trauma to the person. It is also for the patient to get stuck in the event.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder – although some people suffering from OCD find that mindfulness snaps them out of the undesired behavior, it can also trap someone in an obsessive loop. This loop continues to stress the patient until something brings them out of it.
  • Serious or major depression – when a depressive practices mindfulness it could pull them from depressive thoughts. If they are truly suicidal or in deep depression it might make them focus on the wrong aspects of life therefore increasing the risk of suicide.

These three conditions contain a myriad of subconditions that go along with them. Mindfulness can be a problem in each one of these. The best way to avoid these problems it to practice guided mindful meditation. By having someone there as a guide the patient can be pulled out of the loop with little or no damage.

Like any therapy mindfulness needs to be engaged in with caution. Using preparation and with a solid teacher mindfulness can be a good practice but it is important to watch for the pitfalls in certain conditions. If you can find the balance between enough and too far when it comes to mindfulness, you can avoid some of the pitfalls associated with it.


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