This week, we have a guest post from an amazing therapist that we've had the opportunity to speak with and meet via Zoom chat. Cryssa Andersen is a therapist based in Newport Beach, California, who owns and operates her own private practice, Third Way Counseling. In this post, we explore what mindfulness really is and how it's incorporated into therapy and the benefits that comes with practicing it daily.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is 1) paying attention, 2) in the present moment, 3) with a non-judgmental attitude. And that is really hard! We are so used to living our lives fast, plugged in, and multitasking to the extreme. The same old advice If you read any self-help article about this, you will be advised to “slow down”, “unplug”, or “practice self-care.” While that is good advice, it is really hard to do because we have created secondary-gain when it comes to “being busy”. Being busy allows us to not have to look at ourselves, to not have to see that the life we are living is empty, to not have to realize that we really aren’t very happy at all…and who wants to see that?
We have become a culture that is great at avoiding, so while advice about how to be more mindful might be true, our defense are going to keep us numb and moving too fast to notice. Which leads me to the real point of this article - maybe mindfulness in this sense is less about taking care of ourselves, and more about slowing down enough to realize what we might be running from (which really is taking care of yourself.)
So, how does this work?
I tell my clients to work on noticing, because we can’t fix what isn’t in your awareness - and often times, mindfulness is the tool that gets us there. I find that curiosity works best. One of the easiest ways to start being mindful, is to be more curious about your experience. We work backwards into self-awareness. We go from: “oh, I did that “thing (insert whatever thought, feeling, emotion, behavior, experience here) earlier today” - to “I can feel myself doing it now…” - to “I can tell I am about to go down that road.” And from there, all I ask is that you notice - and then give yourself a mental tally mark, noting the experience. There is no judgement here, no seeking to understand it, no explanations, no analyzing - just noticing. Often times, clients come back to tell me that they had no idea they were doing (insert whatever thought, feeling, emotion, behavior, experience here) so often! Crazy, right?
And then comes change…
When we can we learn to be curious about our experience, we naturally start to be more mindful. And the more mindful we are - the better we are at paying attention. When we actually are aware of our thoughts, emotions and behaviors, we can then evaluate if they are helpful and take us where we want to go, or see if they are unhelpful and keep us stuck in the same damaging ruts. Change doesn’t happen without choice, and most of us need to realize that there are other choices out there. Therapy is the catalyst for all of this. You are paying good money to get help with your problems and working with a therapist, someone who is outside of both your head and your life, can help you start to see things from another perspective. This alone can be terrifying, but is often necessary when it comes to shifting the dynamic of your thoughts, emotions and actions. Going to therapy in itself is a mindfulness practice - sitting there, really having to look at yourself, to see what is there, and to come out the other side as you change. Beautiful!
Cryssa Andersen, LMFT is the owner/operator of Third Way Counseling, located in Newport Beach, CA. Her work specializes in adults and teens who struggle with anxiety. When not engaged in her work, Cryssa is usually running, reading, or camping with her husband and son.