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What is Mindfulness? What Does It Do? (Mindfulness from a Trauma-Informed and DBT Perspective)

Written By: Brittany Breton, MSW Intern, SRMP & Magnolia Heaton, LCSW, SRMT Edited By: Magnolia Heaton, LCSW, SRMT

What is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is the process of focusing on your internal and external senses to bring yourself into the present moment within your body and your environment. It is a practice that has been shown to help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as a range of other ailments and symptoms, both physically and psychologically. It requires you to use your senses in a non-judgmental fashion to focus on what you are feeling, touching, seeing, tasting, smelling, and hearing.

There are different benefits to practicing "noticing" (or, "being mindful") of what is happening within ourselves and around ourselves. Some benefits include:

  • increased awareness of trauma

  • increased awareness of triggers

  • increased awareness of thoughts

  • increased awareness of feelings

  • increased awareness of emotions

  • increased awareness of bodily sensations

  • increased awareness of dissociation

  • increased awareness of relationship patterns

  • increased awareness of intuition

  • increased awareness of preferences, hopes, dreams

"When we are able to notice, we are able to make choices. It is not until we notice that we are able to make choices." -Magnolia Heaton, LCSW What this means is, if we don't notice what is going on with ourselves, it is hard to know what our needs and desires are, as well as what shifts would serve us in life. Therefore, the more we are aware, the more presence and intentionality we can incorporate into our lives. No Judgment Here! A non-judgmental stance means we are able to observe what is actively happening within us and outside of us without judging ourselves. The reason this is therapeutic is because judgment is usually something that we learned growing up, from adults, family, and other influential people in our environments. These words other people say to us and around us became our inner voice. This inner voice tends to hold a lot of self-defeating beliefs and biases, making life challenging. This can often turn into thought spirals, panic, depression, anxiety, unknown fears, and other mental health challenges. More info on this below, under Mindful observation.

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways. A few examples include:

  • Mindful Breathing- The practice of focusing on your breathing. Our breathing gives us life- we take in oxygen, and we release carbon dioxide. Feel each inhale, pause, and exhale. Feel what happens in your body and mind each time you take a breath- where do you feel these sensations? Focus on what is changing in your body and mind as you breathe.

  • Mindful Walking- The practice of focusing on your journey rather than your destination. Walking is something we usually think of as a mechanism that gets us from point A to point B; however, it is much more than that. Walking gives us the freedom to move about and explore our world at our own pace. When practicing mindful walking, pay attention to how walking makes your body feel. Where do you feel sensations? Can these be connected to any of the five senses? What are those sensations? Next, focus on your environment. What can you sense? Focus on your environment and your internal sensations.

  • Mindful Eating- The practice of being mindful when consuming food or drink. Much like breathing, eating and drinking also nourish our life force. While eating, pause to consider your senses. What does the food smell like? What does it look like? What does it feel like in your hands? How about in your mouth? What does it taste like? What feelings arise in your body when you are eating? Focus on the food and how your body responds to it.

  • Mindful Observation- The practice of being mindful when observing ourselves or others. When we are able to objectively describe the behaviors and thoughts, we are less likely to hold judgment, which results in us having less shame, which helps to heal us and helps us validate ourselves. Examples: "He's so rude!" could become, "I notice he speaks loudly and calls others different swear words. I notice he makes verbal and physical threats." "I'm so dumb! I can't do anything right!" could become, "Wow; I notice I feel disappointment when I don't follow through on my commitments to myself. I notice I want to be able to trust myself more." "This person is awful!" could become, "I notice my body tenses up when I am around this person. I notice I become short of breath. I notice I feel judged in their presence. I notice they make comments about my body and I notice these comments make me feel uncomfortable. I notice they become argumentative and say pessimistic statements when I share my successes with them. I notice I would prefer to avoid this person whenever possible." When we mindfully observe, it adds so many layers of awareness to what is happening in our lives. A good starting point is so, when experiencing an intense emotion, start off saying, "I notice." This can help you start to identify triggers and patterns. You can then journal about this and discuss with your therapist or other trusted person.

To explore many more options for practicing mindfulness, check out at! There are also plenty of resources (e.g. lectures, mindfulness meditations) on YouTube.

Mindfulness can seem like a very straightforward process at first glance, however; it can take some practicing to get comfortable with. Our minds are wired to be thinking and analyzing all the time, so when we try to turn that off for a little while, it can be tougher than it sounds! If you try to practice mindfulness and find yourself struggling- that’s okay! Just like with many other skills, mindfulness is a technique that can take some practice to acquire. Keep practicing and trying new exercises until you find a process that resonates with you. If you need support with practicing mindfulness, connect with a mental health provider who can help you explore different options to find what works for you!

Much Love,

Brittany and Magnolia <3

Hofmann, S. G., & Gómez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for anxiety and depression. The Psychiatric clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749.

Ackerman, C. E. (2017). 21 Mindfulness exercises & activities for adults. Positive Psychology.

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