Psychology of Mindfulness

Psychology of Mindfulness. Psychology Fanatic article header image
Psychology of Mindfulness. Psychology Fanatic
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“I shouldn’t feel this way,” we try to convince ourselves when emotions overwhelm. In a way, we are right, there is something wrong—that’s the reason behind for the experience of emotion. Our body is signaling a loss of homeostatic balance. There is change that demands a behavioral response. We feel pain, so we bark, bite, cower or run. Emotions run their course whether acknowledged or not. They impede normal action and demand a change. Practices of mindfulness bring emotions into awareness, coddle the momentary disruptions with compassion, creates space and allows for a more examined reaction.

​Our body reacts favorably to some conditions and adversely to others. We feel strong emotions, but often emotional reactions work quietly beneath the surface. Some reactions are biologically programmed but many reactions stem from implicit and explicit memories of experience. A present experience ignites memories that signal safety or danger to the body. 

Emotional Pain

We have some control of felt experience, but most emotions are automatic, undeterred by choice. The most influential control we can impose on emotion is by mitigating the stressors—skilled living enhances By managing money, and budgeting expenses, we mitigate the stress of paying the monthly bills.

​When we build trust by following through on commitments, relationship anxieties subside. Present choices create harmony or invite chaos; but even the best choices don’t eliminate pain—we still experience loss, failure and disappointments.

We feel powerful emotions—both positive and negative. A strong emotion blasts through our serenity demanding action; warning that something in the environment needs attention.  Unpleasant emotions are essential for survival. The pain of a burn instinctively motivates pulling back our hand from the fire.

However, although emotions are natural and contribute to survival, they also can go haywire, leading to unnecessary pain that interferes with wellness more than it helps. Modern therapy practices have recently discovered an ancient Eastern practice to help calm emotions. We refer to this practice as mindfulness.

“​Mindfulness and awareness is saying we need to go in the direction of emotion and learn how to work with its power.”

~Barry Boyce and Stephanie Domet

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice of paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

Resisting Natural Incidents of Emotion

We stupidly wage war against our feelings, damning the emotion rather than the cause. Discrediting, ignoring or denying biological functions is not healthy, confusing the body and the mind. The disjointed functioning knocks the system out of whack, creating internal chaos. The mind disconnects from feeling-states of the body, limiting healthy interoceptive communications between body and mind. Even when we defensively disconnect from feeling, our body continues to experience the stress; we just trained our minds to avoid the feelings.

Conversely, mindfulness addresses heightened emotional arousal in another way. Through mindfulness the practitioner learns to feel the emotion, contain it, and act appropriately without destroying futures or relationships. Jon Kobat-Zinn explains that we cultivate this mindfulness by paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moments thought to” (2013). With emotions, instead of detaching, suppressing or thoughtlessly reacting, we stop and give quiet non-judgmental attention to the emotion.

Natural Incidents of Emotion

If our body interprets an experience as threatening, chemicals release and flow through blood streams, feeding muscles and changing body functions —heart rate increases, oxygen in take increases, digestion slows, and glucose is released. We are prepared to respond. But emotions aren’t the enemy. Emotions are the biological process to engage correctly to experience—either seize opportunities or avoid threats.

Consciousness and Feeling Affects

Consciousness, the minds ability to recognizing feeling states, is an evolutionary anomaly. Outside the human species, other species only marginally enjoy the blessings and curses of consciousness. Awareness properly directed broadens our understanding of the complexity of living, pushing us beyond simple reactivity.

We not only feel but can be aware that we are feeling. Through consciousness, mindfulness becomes passible.

“We can always take a moment—to re-center ourselves in our bodies, acknowledge what we’re feeling, spot our habitual reactions (whether that means erupting when we’re frustrated or silently sulking when we feel criticized), and perhaps decide on a different course of action.”

~Sharon Salzberg (Tricycle)

Mindful Awareness

Awareness of bodily reactions—emotions—opens deeper explorations into the psyche, discovering connections between the self and the environment. Consciousness isn’t perfect. We misinterpret emotions, intensifying or softening the original feeling. Our thoughts generate secondary emotions; sometimes complicating the true causes of the original reaction.

Our thoughts can spur anger to cover feelings of sadness. We can feel guilty for feeling angry. We may even feel sad about being sad. The first emotion triggered by experience followed by a second emotion generated from the thoughts stirred by the emotion.

If in the past we experienced debilitating depression, the initial feelings of sadness signal another wave of impending doom; the signals ignite reactions and then panic, almost guaranteeing another debilitating depression. The first emotion triggers more powerful emotions. When an emotion becomes threatening, we automatically respond to the threat—by freezing, fighting or fleeing.

Sanity and tranquility require a more mindful approach to these emotions. We must interrupt the entrapping cycles of feeling and thinking with mindfulness. Mindfully examining emotions from a safe distance weakens the impact of secondary emotions. Instead of being at war with the original emotion, we become an interested participant, curiously examining the human psyche, both amused and amazed over the feeling of experience.

“Consciousness isn’t perfect. We misinterpret emotions, intensifying or softening the original feeling.”

~T. Franklin Murphy

Mindfulness Practice to Expand Our Capacity for Awareness

Mindfulness in Psychology

Over the last few decades, mindfulness has made an increasingly large presence. Research has strongly shown that cultivating mindfulness has many benefits. The most popular and most widely researched mindfulness based therapy is Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction method. Kabat-Zinn introduced this style of therapy in 1979. Studies show that Mindfulness-based interventions are effective “in improving physical well-being, medical symptoms, sensory pain, physical impairment, functional quality of life, and improving mental health” (Bautista, 2022).

Mindfulness based interventions are available on-line or in classes. Many are based on Kabat-Zinns model.

One of the key psychological benefits of mindfulness is that practitioners improve emotional regulation skills. “because mindfulness promotes the early awareness and nonjudgmental acceptance of emotional stimuli, it allows people to engage in regulation early in the time course of stimulus processing, before intense emotional responses occur” (Teper, Segal, et al., 2013).

Practicing Mindfulness

We practice mindfulness in two distinct ways. When we read about mindfulness in psychology, the comments may be directed to just one of these two common exercises of mindfulness. The first mode of mindfulness is distinct practices for cultivating mindfulness in our lives. This is the basis of Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness-based stress reduction programs. We formerly know these practices as a variety of styles of meditation, bringing awareness to different aspects of our body and mind.

The second common reference to mindfulness is referring to an everyday mindfulness. This is not a structured practice but a mode for interacting with the surrounding environment. Ellen J. Langer’s book on mindfulness largely refers to everyday mindfulness.

However, the two distinct forms of mindfulness are not mutually exclusive. They both boost wellness. Structured practices of mindfulness meditations improve raise our moment to moment awareness in the world around us.


Mindful mediations are practices of attention. One of the most common mindful meditative practices is mindful breathing. Mindful breathing is a practice of focusing attention on the breath. Through this practice and others students become “more familiar with the field of their own body” (2013).

Everyday Mindfulness

Langer explains, when we blindly follow routine or unwittingly carry out senseless orders, we are acting like automations, with potentially grave consequences for ourselves and others” (2014). Kabat-Zinn explains that “we have got to pause in our experience long enough to let the present moment sink in; long enough to actually feel the present moment, to see it in its fullness, to hold it in awareness and thereby come to know and understand it better (2005).

According to Langer, mindfulness helps expand our thinking, providing an escape from the narrowmindedness of bias. She wrote, “just as mindlessness is the rigid reliance on old categories, mindfulness means the continual creation of new ones. Categorizing and re-categorizing, labeling and relabeling as one masters the world…” (2014).

Mindfulness is a Skill

Fighting against emotion is frustrating, leaving us discouraged and feeling helpless. Too much resistance and unhealthy adaptations intrude and separate us from feeling experience at the cost of damaged futures.

Because much of our reactions and processing of emotion in unconscious we need to raise awareness to capture these experiences of emotion. Ellen J. Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, wrote “one need not work through deep seated conflicts to make conscious thoughts that are mindlessly processed.” However, she warns, ‘such thoughts will not, on their own, occur to the person for reconsideration” (Emotional intelligent responses establish greater social connectedness and intimacy, giving our human soul more of the connections it needs.

With mindfulness, we attend to unpleasant feelings by creating space, diminishing fear and appreciating the greatness of human consciousness.

A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic

Discomforting emotions will continue to visit—no matter how healthy the choices; but the discomfort is mitigated through the healthy approaches and life becomes manageable. We learn to work through sadness, fear and anger while continuing to make healthy choices, engaging in pleasurable activities that nurture well-being and improve futures.

When feelings determine how we act, life spirals out of control, creates chaos, and generates more of the feelings we desperately seek to avoid. When feelings are only a part of how we act, life becomes organized and purposeful. A felt experience that creates a flourishing life.

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Bautista, T., Cash, T., Meyerhoefer, T., & Pipe, T. (2022). Equitable Mindfulness: The practice of mindfulness for all. Journal of Community Psychology, 50(7), 3141-3155.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2013). Full Catastrophe Living (Revised Edition): Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Bantam; NO-VALUE edition.

Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2005). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindful Meditation in Everyday Life. Hachette Books.

Langer, Ellen J. (2014). Mindfulness. Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Teper, R., Segal, Z., & Inzlicht, M. (2013). Inside the Mindful Mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(6), 449-454.

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