Man practicing tai chi

Dispositional mindfulness for mental health

Mental Health Awareness Week is marked in over 150 countries at different times of the year. Here in New Zealand, it will be held from the 21st to the 27th of September. It’s a good time to check in on your own mental well‑being and that of your loved ones. You can learn more about it here.

One technique that some people have found really helpful for looking after their mental health is dispositional mindfulness. While it can’t change our outer circumstances, it can change how we process stress by shifting how we perceive our own cognitive responses and emotional patterns. Dispositional mindfulness is about being present, and allowing some breathing space into our busy modern lives. 

The health benefits

Although the research into mindfulness is relatively new, studies are already pointing to some significant returns for both physical and mental health.

In this study, research participants who scored high on the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) were healthier in four of the seven cardiovascular indicators and on the overall cardiovascular health score. The research also revealed that those participants who had been normal weight as children, but became obese as adults, scored low on the MAAS. 

Researchers think that dispositional mindfulness may influence the decision making processes that are related to the choices we make about our health—such as the response to cravings or the decision to exercise.

As for our mental wellbeing, research suggests that dispositional mindfulness can alleviate the physiological effects of stress.

And this study found that for those participants who tested low or moderate for dispositional mindfulness, the correlation of neuroticism to depression was much higher. The theory behind this is that having the ability to describe and process our inner experiences, can help to moderate the development of depression associated with neuroticism. 

How to practice dispositional mindfulness

Although some people naturally have this type of self-awareness and focus, it can be cultivated by anyone.

A good way to start is with The Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (you can access it here). The questions on the scale reflect various forms of staying in the present moment and being in touch with your current feelings. Complete the scale and note your score. Then, take each question and practice being mindful about it for 1 to 2 weeks. Once you feel you’ve made a significant difference to the score for a question, move to the next one and practice it for the same amount of time. It can help to check-in at set intervals each day (you can use the alarm on your phone) and think about how you’ve been practicing that week’s mindful characteristic.

There are also some active pursuits like walking meditation, yoga, and Tai Chi, that can help you to practice 'being in the flow' and focusing on the present moment. 

Dispositional mindfulness is about becoming attuned to view our own reactions and feelings so we can view them from a more grounded distance. When we learn to observe our emotions rather than letting them run the show, we protect our mental and physical well-being.

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