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Mindfulness can cause panic, depression and anxiety, participants report

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Mindfulness is increasingly becoming the relaxation method of choice, used not only by individuals but by employers and health services.

Despite claims that the practice, which involves being still and focusing on one’s breathing and thoughts, can help to tackle stress and depression, critics have attested to its negative effects - suggesting that it is not simply a harmless way to unwind. 

Dr Peter Jones of truthXchange has spoken about the Buddhist roots of mindfulness, explaining that the process of meditation, which effectively silences the conscience, actually creates a mindset "very opposite to the Christian faith".

Studies have also shown that mindfulness can cause adverse effects. In 1992, one researcher, David Shapiro of the University of California, Irvine, found that 7% of those who practiced mindfulness experienced serious negative reactions, such as panic and depression.

Several people have described their personal negative experiences of mindfulness, reporting these same feelings of panic, depression and anxiety. 

'Rising panic'

Writing for the Guardian, Dawn Foster reported that she tried mindfulness at work, but found her experience to be the opposite of the intended effect.

In the article, she describes the discomfort she experienced while meditating, as she found herself suddenly unable to breathe:

"I feel a rising panic and worry that I might pass out, my mind racing. Then we’re told to open our eyes and the feeling dissipates. I look around. No one else appears to have felt they were facing imminent death. What just happened?"

The effects, she said, lasted for days afterward, leaving her with a "permanent tension headache" and constant unease.

"The fact that something seemingly benign, positive and hugely popular had such a profound effect has taken me by surprise", she said. 

Despite the popularity of mindfulness, with large corporations such as Google, Apple and Ikea adopting it to ‘benefit’ their employees, Ms Foster said that she found it anything but helpful.

Even a year later, she said that the memory of the experience brings a "resurgent wave of panic and tightness in [her] chest"

For others, the consequences have proved yet more serious. 

Claire, who went on a mindfulness course as part of work training, found that, despite the initial feeling of relaxation, the meditation soon brought up childhood trauma, which triggered a severe psychological reaction. 

"Somehow, the course triggered things I had previously got over," Claire said. "I had a breakdown and spent three months in a psychiatric unit. It was a depressive breakdown with psychotic elements related to the trauma, and several dissociative episodes"

Mindfulness and the loss of self

Christian thinkers have argued that the problems with mindfulness are linked to its roots in pagan religions. 

Dr Joe Boot has explained that at the heart of mindfulness is the Buddhist teaching of 'cessation', "in which mental afflictions are removed because the illusion of the ‘self’ is uprooted".

"There is no true 'I'," he writes, "and this realisation liberates us from any sense of sin, shame, fear or even desire."

He explains that mindfulness ultimately cannot offer true peace, because it does not deal with the core "human problem" of sin. 

"Our minds are not fragments of pure consciousness, but each an individual aspect of created spiritual reality, embodied in the human person. Our problems are not only metaphysical – that we are alienated from pure consciousness. The human problem is moral. Our problem is sin."

Wholeness of mind, Dr Boot argues, is found instead in the salvation offered by Christ and the redeeming nature of his love:

"The cure is in facing ourselves and our sins, and by repentance and faith being reconciled to God. In fellowship with God through Jesus Christ, the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, where perfect love casts out fear. The rule of God in our lives is productive of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, who is with us forever."

Related News:
Mindfulness or the mind of Christ 
Watch Peter Jones discuss the dangers of mindfulness 
Mindfulness or mindlessness

Related Coverage:
Is mindfulness making us ill? (Guardian)