Q: I've been told I should "do mindfulness" but I just hate it. Am I doing it wrong?
A: Despite becoming quite the fashionable self-help tool, mindfulness isn't for everyone.
It also isn't entirely clear what people mean anymore when they say "do mindfulness".
As a meditation practice, mindfulness goes back thousands of years, and the specific kind of concentration-based mindfulness comes largely from Buddhist traditions. First made popular by Jon Kabat-Zinn and his "Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction" approach to chronic pain, and then via Marsha Linehan's "Dialectical Behaviour Therapy" or DBT, a therapeutic approach to borderline personality disorder, it has spread far and is touted as a bit of a cure-all.
Like yoga, or drinking eight glasses of water a day it can seem like something we all should do.
But is it the cure-all some might seek to convince us it is?
Fact is, in some instances, it can be downright unhelpful, even dangerous.
For instance, mindfulness is a great tool for relapse prevention from depression, but not a great idea if you're in the midst of a depressive episode. Why? Because it isn't a great idea to focus more intensely on what's going on inside when your thoughts are that painful and distressing.
The same can be said for people who struggle with psychotic symptoms, intense flashbacks due to post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociation or severe substance misuse.
Of course, it's also really helpful for lots of other things, including anxiety and general mental wellbeing.
However, as it has become more popular, one of the most important aspects of the practice is often lost: compassion. Some thought that the Buddhist ideas around compassion would be too much for many when they're starting out on their mindfulness journey.
However, I would say it's exactly what is missing, not just from mindfulness but increasingly our wider culture.
Back to your question, it may very well be that it isn't for you - and if so that's okay. However, if you want to seek out a more compassionate approach, then approaching it with gentleness and kindness, rather than pushing yourself to do what you can't manage, is key.
Q: I get a hard time from people close to me for "talking to myself". I often read things out loud, and need to talk when I think, is that weird?
A: It's one of those strange old cruel things people used to say isn't it: "Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness." Of course, it's complete rubbish, because we're all talking to ourselves all the time.
Just that for most the narrative is happening silently inside our own heads.
But many people find that to think clearly they need to say things out loud, whether it be drafting a text, or just wanting to hear how things sound. Not only is it normal, but it can also help - for instance, research shows that talking out loud can increase control over tasks. Like batsmen, or goal kickers muttering things to themselves before setting up to play.
But of course, ultimately, do what works. And if people have a problem with that, well, that's on them, isn't it?
Q: My flatmates tease me for being OCD because I like things tidy, and I can't relax if they aren't. Are they right?
A: Quite apart from the fact that obsessive-compulsive disorder isn't about tidiness, or a need for order, if it doesn't bother you but it bothers them, then no.
True OCD is an anxiety disorder where people experience obsessive thoughts that compel them to do behaviours compulsively.
But it has incorrectly come to mean tidy, perfectionistic or someone who loves order. But calling someone a bit OCD isn't helpful for anyone, and in fact perpetuates stigma by making a mental health diagnosis, even used incorrectly, a term of derision.
It might, however, be a good idea for you to get a bit better at tolerating other people's mess, and even a bit of chaos. None of this makes you in any way diagnosable - and it might be worth gently pointing that out to your flatmates too.