Why Mindfulness Matters… Especially Now


That’s a common buzzword. It’s right up there with “self-care” in our current vernacular.

If we look at companies like Coursera, the Great Courses, and Udemy, we can find masterclasses on the subject so that everyone can become masters of mindfulness. There are retreats dedicated to the practice, and Buddhist temples, yoga studios, and therapists in private practice and agencies offer weekly or daily groups. Jon Kabat Zinn offers a program on managing chronic pain through daily mindfulness practice.

Mindfulness is also one of the umbrellas of skills for Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Each module for DBT skills group starts off with a two-week training period focused on mindfulness practice, and every week starts off with some form of mindfulness practice and discussion.

Why mindfulness? What is it that we’re seeking? Why do we do it?

I want to start off responding to these questions by talking about the “How” skill of DBT called “one-mindfully.”

In our current world, a lot of emphasis is placed on multi-tasking. I can remember internship and job interviews where I was asked about my ability to multi-task, because it is seen as a strength in many industries.

The truth though is that multi-tasking is a fantasy: we are unable to effectively engage in more than one complex activity at a time. That makes sense, really, because if I’m splitting my attention between two or more activities, I cannot possibly be able to complete any of them as though I was giving it my full attention.

Multi-tasking isn’t relegated just to the work environment. We use it when we listen to podcasts while cooking, play music while driving or working out, check out social media while we’re sharing a family dinner, look at our phones when we’re having a conversation with our friends and loved ones, and more.

Most of our time, really, is spent multi-tasking. When I reflect on my own behaviors here, I can see that my attention ebbs and flows between tasks, neither getting consistent and full attention.

So, DBT suggests “one-mindfully” as one of the “How” skills to practicing mindfulness. When we are engaging one-mindfully, we are focusing all our attention on one task. For instance, as I write this post, I’m trying to focus my attention only on this task, so my phone is in the other room with my family, music, and cats. One-mindfully is the opposite of multi-tasking.

DBT, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Dalai Lama, and others recommend mindfulness as an effective way of facing life, which is becoming increasingly more complex as more and more technologies impose more and more complications to daily living. Since many of us have a limited understanding of our emotions and limited emotional vocabulary, we have an increased urge to retreat into multi-tasking behaviors without even realizing it.

So, what is mindfulness? Simply put, mindfulness is awareness. It’s the ability to focus attention and consciousness on this moment, this breath, this activity, this thought, this feeling. I mentioned earlier that mindfulness is one of the umbrella skills of DBT, and I go so far as to say, without mindfulness practice, we cannot access the other skillsets. Put another way: if I am unable to have awareness of an action urge during an interaction with my spouse, I may find myself saying or doing things that I will later regret.

When we practice mindfulness daily, we increase the chances that we will be aware of our thoughts and feelings during what DBT calls prompting events. Why is this beneficial, you ask? Well, if I’m having a conversation with my spouse and find myself acting on the urge to check social media or see if someone else has texted me, I can ask myself questions about this urge and make a choice to remain in the conversation I’m already having or follow through on my urge and accept the consequences of potentially hurting my spouse with my action.

Currently, many of us are in a “homestay” status due to the pandemic that’s wreaking havoc across the globe. During this time, we are experiencing many powerful emotions daily, including sadness, fear, anxiety, and anger. Perhaps we’re not beaten down by these emotions, and they do come up. For me, they seem to come up on Sundays more than other days.

If we’re mindful during this time, we are present for these emotions, even though they are painful. We provide space for them and look at them with curiosity.

We validate them.

If we are avoidant during this time, the emotions that arise still come—we don’t prevent them—and show themselves in ineffective ways. This may happen through irritability, tantrums, sleepless nights, changes in appetite, restlessness, etc. Some of these responses can be harmful to ourselves, and some can be harmful to others, or both.

When we’re in a “homestay” like many of us are now, this can make our situation more unpleasant than it has to be. This is why, even though we set ourselves to experience a painful moment, practicing mindfulness of these inevitable negative emotions is necessary.

The reality is that we are going to continue to have feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger—and a lot of others—and, if we hold space for those emotions, if we stop what we’re doing and let those emotions have their authentic voice, then we are allowing ourselves to better experience this pandemic, we increase our chances to look back on this experience as one of growth and connection—both within ourselves and with others.

When I’m able to give space to all my emotions—the good, the bad, and the ugly—I’m able to be mindful that I’m not scared or angry all the time. I’m not pretending that I’m happy and content all the time, either. I’m allowing myself to know that sometimes, I’m feeling happy and connected, sometimes, I’m feeling sad or outraged, and sometimes, I’m feeling overwhelmed by it all.

When we practice mindfulness, we give our bodies the message that it’s okay to feel however we feel whenever we feel it. This is so important right now, especially if one of our activities of avoidance includes going out to engage in mindless shopping at the hint of an uncomfortable emotion.

Right now, we can give ourselves the gift of validation through mindfulness. This is a gift that will last far beyond this sheltering-at-home experience if we let it.



Setting boundaries is a way of caring for myself. It doesn’t make me mean, selfish, or uncaring (just) because I don’t do things your way. I care about me, too.

 – Christine Morgan

Boundaries are important. Ultimately, they help keep us safe. Most people, though, are really taught about only one kind of boundary—physical. Is this you? Thinking back, I know it was me. But, boundaries are much more complex and much more important than just protecting us physically.

Over the years, I’ve had experiences which have left me feeling uncomfortable that had little to nothing to do with physical boundaries. Maybe you can relate to some or all of these experiences:

  • At times in my childhood, I was told, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry for!”
  • During my teens, I was told things akin to, “You would if you loved me.”
  • People I knew have shared something publicly about me that I didn’t really want a large number of people to know;
  • Over the phone, someone tried to urge me to espouse their spiritual beliefs;
  • There were even times when I heard people make negative comments about a whole race or other groups of people.

Looking back, I can see one commonality to all of these situations for me. They all left me feeling uncomfortable in a way that physical boundary transgressions have felt uncomfortable to me as well. In the above experiences, though, I didn’t have a word for what was happening, because, well, no one was entering my “personal space” in any observable way. So, I often dismissed the discomfort at hand, in spite of having thoughts like, “Well, it seems I already have something to cry for, or else I wouldn’t be crying,” or “I’ve given a lot of thought to my spiritual beliefs, and it’s really none of your business,” or “Really? Every single person in _________ group is like this?”

Maybe you can relate to that feeling of exposure that happens when someone shares something intimate about you that you didn’t want shared. For me, it’s like being caught with my clothes off in public. Yikes! It’s also something that I see happening on social media frequently.

Now, I can look back at these experiences and see that they felt uncomfortable in a way similar to physical boundary transgressions because they were all examples of others crossing my boundaries, only boundaries I hadn’t been taught about and so didn’t know how to set.

Lane Pederson, PsyD, LP, DBTC defines six different types of boundaries in his book The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual: DBT for Self-Help, and Individual and Group Treatment Settings, 2nd Edition that we need to be aware of. Six! Most of us are taught one, in potentially awkward demonstrations, maybe two. Maybe if we want to be really persnickety, we could find even more than six.

The important message here is that there are quite a few ways that we can keep ourselves safe, and we first need to be aware of these so that we can be pro-active—sort of like participating in one of those special self-defense classes designed for women when existing in public.

Boundaries Defined

I will briefly define the boundaries that Lane Pederson discusses so that you, too, can have a place to start from when you’re thinking about your own safety—all aspects of it.


  • frequently referred to as “personal space”—individual to each person;
  • different kinds of touch and how people shouldn’t touch our “private places” without permission;
  • what you eat and drink—anything that affects your physical being.

For me, the last one calls to mind those times if we are pressured to drink alcohol or try mood-altering substances when we’d really rather not. And, it’s more than that, too.


  • what you feel;
  • how you are able to be manipulated by others through gas-lighting, guilt-trips, and the like;
  • whether or not you take on the emotional distress of others, or expect them to take on your distress;
  • what and how you share about your feelings to others, as well as to whom you share.


  • related to thoughts, beliefs, and values;
  • how you share about your internal life to others.


  • related to your choice of religion and the extent to which you are free to choose;
  • the people with whom you share your spiritual life and how you share it.


  • your history and life;
  • shares common ground with the above boundaries;
  • how and to whom your life story is shared.

This can also be an easily overlooked boundary, especially when we meet someone with whom we believe we immediately “click”; after spending a few hours sharing as much as we possibly can about ourselves to a stranger, we can walk away thinking, “I feel like I’ve known them all my life.” Definitely, an important boundary to be aware of.


  • any boundaries that are not listed above;
  • geographical boundaries like where you live and work;
  • who your family and friends are;
  • all those things that set you apart from the “people that you meet when you’re walking down the street, the people that you meet each day!” (Sesame Street shout-out!).

What’s Next

Now that you’re aware of all these boundaries that you never knew existed, you can become aware of how they work for you in interpersonal relationships.

Practice awareness of the number of times in a week or a month, for instance:

  • You walk away from a conversation and think: “Man! I wish I hadn’t said that! I don’t even know that person.” (psychological or biographical.)
  • You walk away from an outing with friends and say, “I wish I hadn’t had that drink.” (physical)
  • You share something that a friend told you in confidence, and they become upset when you share it. (psychological or biographical)
  • You find yourself feeling “crazy” because you know that what you’re feeling is valid and someone else has told you it’s wrong. (emotional)
  • You try to convince someone that they need to help you by attempting to appeal to their fears in some way. (emotional)

I think it’s important to note that if you’re noticing that you are making boundary transgressions, it’s more than likely because you weren’t taught about boundaries, and maybe you were taught how to make these particular transgressions (usually unwittingly on the part of the environment). While we need to have healthy boundaries modeled for us in order to learn them, we can also be taught in other ways, like having them defined for us. Also, awareness is a pretty powerful tool, as anyone who practices mindfulness regularly can attest. Once we become aware of a particular problematic behavior, it makes it difficult to continue engaging in it, especially when we can make a different choice about it.

There’s hope for us all! Whew!

Let me know what you think about boundaries. I’d love to hear from you!

IMPROVE the Moment Over the Holidays

Dialectical Behavior Therapy focuses on the teaching and reinforcing of four major areas of skills: Mindfulness Practice, Distress Tolerance, Interpersonal Effectiveness, and Emotion Regulation.

I happen to believe that these skills are helpful for everyone. I mean, most of us have had moments — and sometimes longer — that can feel intolerable and during which we can find ourselves saying, “I can’t stand this.” It’s during a time like this that DBT skills can be very helpful, particularly Mindfulness (awareness that we are experiencing distress) and Distress Tolerance (skills meant to help us move effectively from this moment to the next). Anyone can use them to make a current situation better.

On November 20, 2016, I had the honor of speaking at Sunday Assembly Atlanta. My topic was using the DBT skill “IMPROVE the Moment” during the Holiday season. Here’s a link to this speech. I hope you find something in it for you this season.