What Is Complementary Therapy?
Complementary therapies are therapies that fall outside the realm of conventional treatment. These therapies are holistic, meaning that they focus more on treating your general well-being rather than the symptoms of one specific disease or illness.
Holistic treatments and complementary therapies will combine approaches that look at improving both your mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Complementary therapies are often not prescribed by doctors in Western medicine, but they may be recommended alongside more mainstream treatments to help support your recovery.
Complementary therapies can be used for both physical and mental health issues, and most complementary therapies are considered safe, and they may help you feel better and cope with the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Most complementary therapies focus on reducing stress and anxiety.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a relatively simple practice that involves paying attention to what’s happening inside and outside of your body, moment by moment.
If you’re someone that suffers from anxiety and you spend too much time worrying about things that might happen, (see also: What Happens When You Go To The Doctor For Anxiety?)you may benefit from this practice which is essentially all about living in the moment.
Essentially, mindfulness is your ability to be completely present in the moment. It may sound simple, but this can actually have some pretty big benefits for both our mental and physical health.
Mindfulness is a practice, and it may take some time to master it. Mindfulness is a type of meditative practice that helps free you from distractions and judgement.
You’ll take time to build this skill and eventually, be able to use it in your daily life to help you teach your mind to stay more in the moment. This can free you of unwanted feelings and emotions, and help you navigate difficult situations.
The Benefits Of Mindfulness
Mindfulness may not be a ‘mainstream’ therapy, but there’s no doubt about it – it has some pretty big benefits.
Mindfulness can help actively reduce stress. It has been found that mindfulness therapies have been effective at reducing stress levels by keeping you present in the moment.
Research even suggests that, when practiced consistently, mindfulness can even decrease the size of the amygdala (aka the fight or flight center of the brain), making you less susceptible to stress and anxiety.
Results have been seen in as little as eight weeks of mindfulness practice
Mindfulness can also help prevent rumination, which is the process of thinking negatively or dwelling on negative things and their consequences, which can keep you stuck in cycles of depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness can do this by directing our attention to the present moment, and pulling us out of any ruminating behaviors.
Mindfulness also focuses on practicing behaviors such as compassion and acceptance, which can help fight negative self-talk and leave us feeling more upbeat.
Evidence suggests that practicing mindfulness may also help improve your focus. If you struggle to focus, it’s probably because your mind is always drifting elsewhere.
Mindfulness can improve your cognitive performance by helping you to stay in the present moment. There is also some evidence to suggest that meditative mindfulness can improve your cognitive flexibility and attention.
May Reduce Emotional Reactivity
Practicing mindfulness may decrease your levels of emotional reactivity. Emotional reactivity can be defined as an intense emotional response characterized by negative responses to challenges, a different threshold for arousal, and emotional impulsivity.
In more frequent terms, we usually recognize emotional reactivity as ‘overreacting’.
Research suggests that mindfulness may reduce emotional reactivity by encouraging us to adopt a more open attitude to life’s challenges.
Is Mindfulness A Complementary Therapy?
Mindfulness meditation is considered a contemplative, complementary therapy because it focuses on bringing the mind, body and spirit into alignment, rather than treating one specific ailment.
Mindfulness is often recommended as a complementary therapy alongside other treatments for mental health issues, and it can also be used in conjunction with other complementary therapies such as aromatherapy and homoeopathy.
If you’re in therapy for a mental health issue, your therapist may also encourage you to participate in mindfulness activities to improve your ability to stay in the present moment and reduce anxiety levels.
We should also remember that mindfulness is a bit of an umbrella term. Although it’s usually used to refer to mindfulness meditation, there are other types of mindfulness activities that you can try, including:
- Walking meditation
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Third eye meditation
- Diaphragmatic breathing
- Observing thought meditation
- Body scanning
- Sensory exercises, such as listening to music, washing the dishes, and eating. These are all exercises that can be performed mindfully
How often you perform mindfulness activities is up to you, and some prefer to practise them either daily or weekly. Weekly sessions are extremely popular, especially for people practising mindfulness activities such as yoga and meditation.
There is also no definitive end point for mindfulness. It’s simply up to you. However, if you’re working with a therapist, they may recommend a certain length of time, such as weeks or months.
If your therapist offers a recommended time scale, we’d advise you to stick to it.
However, if you’re performing mindfulness on your own accord, you should be aware that you may need to practise it regularly, and for some time, in order to see the real benefits. You should aim to continue with mindfulness therapies until you:
- Have resolved the specific symptoms you need relief from
- Have learned enough skills to continue practising mindfulness in your own time
- Feel that you are better equipped to handle the issues that sought you to try mindfulness therapy in the first place
Mindfulness often works best when it’s combined with other practices. This could involve eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, taking vitamins, supplements, and prescribed medications (if necessary).
Why Does Mindfulness Work?
Some believe that mindfulness works by improving a little process called “extinction learning”. Extinction learning is described as a gradual decrease in response to a stimulus.
Essentially, when you are repeatedly exposed to something, your fear and anxiety in response to it are reduced. This technique can also be applied in different contexts in therapy, and is often referred to as ‘exposure therapy’.
This is why many use mindfulness therapies to help treat anxiety disorders. It may not work for everyone, but when mindfulness techniques are combined with exposure therapy (in people that require it), the effects can be impressive.
There are also two main types of mindfulness meditation that can be used. These are:
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR): This is when mindfulness is taught via meditation over the course of a few weeks, in group environments or in the comfort of your own home.
- Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT): This therapy is used to treat depression, and mindfulness meditation is often combined with a type (or types) of talk therapy, usually cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) to help reduce negative thoughts and emotions.
Mindfulness is an extremely powerful technique that can be practised in multiple ways, and it’s often considered a complementary therapy that works best when combined with more traditional therapies, and when other positive physical and mental practices (such as regular exercise and a healthy diet) are introduced.