Mindfulness is a skill to help us slow things down and be in the here and now. Mindfulness can also help us balance facts and emotions to come up with the solution that best meets our needs and goals. By being present, we are able to accurately understand what is happening around us and within us. This can be a powerful tool to mitigate the impacts of vicarious trauma since it allows us to stay in a balanced frame of mind; able to notice our emotions without becoming overwhelmed by them.


Jon Kabat-Zinn defines Mindfulness as awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally.[1] Mindfulness is about paying attention to and becoming more aware of ourselves and the world around us. It is about being more present in our own lives, in other words, “being in the moment.”  It is based on ancient practices such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism/Daoism and crosses all cultures and traditions; however, it can also be practiced in a secular way (without being connected to a particular culture or spirituality.)

Mindfulness includes:

  • Intention (focus on what you think matters)
  • focused attention (fully pay attention without judgement)
  • observation (noticing your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations)
  • awareness (of breath, or the present moment)
  • insight (allowing ourselves to respond, rather than react to our environment)


Meditation, which cultivates mindfulness, can be particularly effective at reducing the impacts of vicarious trauma because of its ability to help reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and other negative emotions, and therefore at improving our mental health. Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, meditation switches our focus to what is happening in the present.

Other benefits of Mindfulness include:[2]

  • Improves well-being. Being mindful makes it easier to savor the pleasures in life as they occur, helps you become fully engaged in activities, and creates a greater capacity to deal with adverse events. By focusing on the here and now, people are less preoccupied with concerns about success and self-esteem and are better able to form deep connections with others.
  • Mindfulness improves physical health. Scientists have discovered that mindfulness techniques help improve physical health in several ways. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress, treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, improve sleep, and alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
  • Mindfulness improves mental health. In recent years, psychotherapists have turned to mindfulness meditation as an important element in the treatment of a number of issues, including depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As service providers, we often recommend mindfulness activities to others, while putting off seeking the benefits for ourselves. In fact, mindfulness is the “foundation” for mitigating the impacts of vicarious trauma; if we don’t know what is happening for us in the present moment, it is difficult to address the stressors that are impacting our work and home lives.

Attitudes/Pillars of Mindfulness

The following list is adapted from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s foundations for mindfulness. These constitute the major pillars of mindfulness practice of MBSR training and practice.[3] 

  • Non-judging: This quality of awareness involves cultivating impartial observation regarding any experience. This includes not labeling thoughts, feelings, or sensations as good or bad or right or wrong. It is simply about taking note of thoughts, feelings, or sensations in each moment.
  • Patience: This refers to simply being in the moment, accepting it in its fullness.  This is also about remembering that things must unfold in their own time and not to let our anxieties and desire for certain results dominate the quality of the moment.
  • Beginner’s mind (openness to learning):  This quality of awareness sees things as new and fresh, as if for the first time, with a sense of curiosity. This is about letting go of expectations from past experiences and watching the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present.
  • Trust (in self and in the practice): Learning to trust your own experiences, feelings, and intuition. In other words, letting go of any inner harsh judgement.
  • Non-striving (not trying to be good, different, or best): With this quality of awareness, there is no grasping, aversion to change, or movement away from whatever arises in the moment; in other words, non-striving means not trying to get anywhere other than where you are. 
  • Acceptance of what is (in this moment): With this quality of awareness, you can simply let things be as they are, without having to fix or change what is happening in the present moment.  By fully accepting what each moment offers, you can experience life much more completely.
  • Letting go or non-attachment: Letting go of thoughts, ideas, things, events, desires, views, hopes and experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. Allowing things to be as they are, without getting caught up in our attachment to or rejection of them. It means to give up resisting or struggling and allowing things to be as they are.

[1] Kabat-Zinn, Jon. 2013. Full Catastrophe Living. New York, NY: Bantam Dell Publishing Group.

[2] Adapted with from Positive Psychology: Harnessing the Power of Happiness, Personal Strength, and Mindfulnessa special health report published by Harvard Health Publishing.

[3] Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).