Can Mindfulness Exercises Have a Negative Impact?
Mindfulness has become a popular therapeutic technique for many people trying to manage anxiety and stress.
Mindfulness exercises usually include aspects of meditation where a person sits and focuses on the present moment. The idea is to calmly acknowledge one’s feelings and thoughts before purposely bringing the attention back to the breath or a guided meditation. It’s an opportunity to clear your mind and relax.
It may seem like this practice would benefit everyone, but you might be surprised to learn that’s not the case. You rarely hear about the downsides of mindfulness practices, but they do exist. In fact, mindfulness can at times be more harmful than helpful.
The downsides of mindfulness
Mindfulness encourages a certain level of detachment from the events of the day. As you meditate, you’re encouraged to withdraw from the current challenges you’re facing and look at them from a distance, therefore, limiting their effect.
In some instances, people take this mindfulness technique too far by using it as a method for avoiding problems. Meditation becomes an escape for people to disconnect from challenging situations they don’t want to deal with.
Instead of critically thinking through the pros and cons of a life change, they retreat into a meditative state where it doesn’t feel as though a choice has to be made.
In addition to avoiding critical thinking situations, a study published in the journal Bmc Complementary and Alternative Medicine found 17 to 53 percent of people reported relaxation-induced anxiety after meditative practices.
When you’re trying to get a certain result from mindfulness practice, it can feel like you’re doing something wrong if you keep getting distracted or find yourself unable to sit still.
People find it more difficult to relax during meditation because unwanted thoughts keep entering their minds, they are worried about their inability to relax, or they are bored.
Who should avoid mindfulness techniques?
People with anxiety and stress conditions are most at-risk for experiencing the adverse effects of mindfulness. It’s important for people with existing mental health conditions to discuss mindfulness techniques with their doctors before giving them a try.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder is one example of a condition that may not benefit from meditative practices. In this instance, mindfulness meditation can actually trigger flashbacks and create space for intrusive thoughts and memories that the mind has been actively working to avoid. Check this article for tips on meditating with PTSD.
Other conditions that may be negatively impacted by mindfulness include depression, social anxiety, and general anxiety.
For some people, being alone with their thoughts in the present moment creates space for negative ideas and memories to enter consciousness.
This can be particularly traumatic if those memories were previously repressed and are just now revealing traumas that have long been buried.
All of this isn’t to say that mindfulness cannot be helpful for people with mental health conditions. You may have severe anxiety and experience fewer symptoms of your condition after meditation.
The point is, mindfulness exercises are not a one-size-fits-all therapeutic technique.
They will work for some people and not for others. Listen to your body and monitor how you feel to determine if mindfulness exercises are right for you.