How Mindfulness can Heal Teen Bipolar Disorder

Teen Bipolar Disorder

When some people think of mindfulness, they might think of religion or spirituality. Although mindfulness is sometimes a part of religious or spiritual practices, it alone is not a religion. Nor is it really all that spiritual.

Put simply, mindfulness is the practice of becoming conscious of your internal and external environment. It is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment, while acknowledging and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity. Today, it is often used as a therapeutic practice among therapists and psychologists.

Daniel Siegel, Director of The Mindsight Institute at UCLA and author of the book, The Mindful Brain, has been studying the effects of meditation on the brain for over 20 years. He has come to recognize that meditation and mindful awareness can alter brain function, mental activity, and interpersonal relationships. More importantly, Siegel has used mindfulness with his patients suffering from Bipolar Disorder in order to help with the hallmark symptom of emotional dysregulation and mood swings.

Prior to any real evidence that mindfulness could be an effective treatment method, one study investigating obsessive-compulsive disorder at UCLA found that psychotherapy, including mindfulness-oriented methods of treatment, could actually change patterns in the brain. This study along with insights made by Siegel about the brain led him to use mindfulness with a sophomore high school student whose parents were wary of the side effects of mood stabilizing medication, which is typical treatment for those with teen Bipolar Disorder.

Essentially, he uncovered that mindfulness practice could help those parts of the brain that regulate mood to grow and strengthen, stabilizing the mind and enabling his patients to achieve emotional equilibrium and resilience. Mindful awareness, wrote Siegel, in his book Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, can directly stimulate the growth of those clusters of neurons called the resonance circuits, which enable resonance with others and self-regulation of moods.

Siegel points out that there is a connection between emotional regulation and attunement. Attuned communication is when two human beings feel as though they are a part of one resonating whole. The kind of bond that a mother has with her child is experienced through attuned communication. However, this sort of connection with another human being doesn’t just happen between mother and child; it can also happen between friends meeting for coffee or a couple out on a date.

When there is attunement, whether with another or with oneself, a person becomes more balanced and emotionally regulated. This is the goal of mindfulness practice: to assist an individual with cultivating that inner and outer attunement, which assists with emotional regulation. Attending to the present moment and accepting the existing feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding activity found within that moment promotes attunement, regulation, and healing.

Although at this time mindfulness is still not considered a traditional form of mental health treatment, research continues to point to its healing benefits, particularly for those whose ability to self-regulate has been impaired, such as bipolar teens.

Mindfulness is a practice that can be supportive, regardless of age. It can benefit the body, mind, and heart, even if only practiced from time to time. Indeed, there are immediate benefits along with long-term, positive effects on life that bring satisfaction, joy, love, and fulfilling relationships.

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