You may have heard of the term “mindfulness”, which refers to the awareness that emerges from paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the present moment. It’s a concept that has been around for a long time, but is increasingly being applied therapeutically to conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This was one of the topics discussed at the last Speaker Series by Dr. Lance Hawley, psychologist at Sunnybrook’s Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre.
Dr. Hawley says mindfulness promotes turning towards potential difficulties using all of our senses, which helps us move out of ‘automatic pilot’ mode. It’s an intentional process of being fully in the moment with purpose and with curiosity, almost like seeing things for the first time. It may sound simple, but our society is often pushed to multi-task. So the next time you brush your teeth, be fully in the moment. Or during your next meal, direct your attention to the taste of every bite of food.
For patients with OCD – a condition that triggers repeated rituals and behaviours – mindfulness can help some patients rethink the thoughts or images that may be at the root of these compulsions. The hope is mindfulness may help some patients begin to notice the urge to ritualize, and step back for a moment. Dr. Hawley says these urges often come in waves, so if patients can ride the wave out, it can be a positive step. While the therapeutic effect for OCD still isn’t fully understood, studies are ongoing.
For those who have never tried mindfulness, Dr. Hawley outlined a brief breath awareness practice anyone can try:
- Bring yourself into the present moment adopting an upright and dignified posture. If possible, close your eyes.
- “What is my experience right now, in thoughts, in feelings, and in bodily sensations?”
- Acknowledge and register your experience, even if it is unwanted.
- Gently redirect your full attention to each in-breath and to each outbreath as they follow one after the other.
- Your breath can function as an anchor to bring you into the present and help you tune into a state of awareness and stillness.
- Expand the field of your awareness, including your body as a whole, your posture, and your facial expression.
- The breathing space provides a way to step out of automatic pilot mode and reconnect with the present moment.
Watch Dr. Hawley’s talk, as part of the Speaker Series event entitled New Community Options for Obsessive and Hoarding Disorders: