Mood Swings: The Mindful Way – Managing Anger, Anxiety and Low Mood

ISBN 978-1-84709-459-9, £7.99, Caroline Mitchell, Sheldon Press

It is difficult for a small book that is not coated in the words Heart of Darkness, The Awakening or The Yellow Wallpaper to really make strides in the world. This 111-page offering from EMDR practitioner and trauma therapist, Caroline Mitchell tries to enlighten us with regard to the Buddhism-inspired and contentious discipline of mindfulness, yet ultimately gets lost in its own denseness.

Behind the flambé of mindfulness courtesy of celebrity endorsements and NICE recommendations lie two camps it would appear: The Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting believing that this once “New Age fad” should be mandatory in hospitals and schools, and The Spectator’s Melanie McDonagh who likens the calming tool of mindfulness to a cult.

Mitchell does little to confront the cynics. Her introduction, seemingly aimed at female readers (“last piece of chocolate”), and her astonishing naivety concerning the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and Goldman Sachs – both proven miscreants – undermine what is essentially an informative book.

The chief problem is that this work tries to make friends with you rather than convey the story of mindfulness in a compelling, structured and stylish way. And the lack of an index at the rear and constant sub-headings merely compound this sense of frivolousness.

That said, Mitchell covers pertinent ground with her mention of the imbalance in neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, gamma-aminobutyric acid), the relationship between insomnia and bipolar disorder/manic depression (increased activity in the amygdala), the concentration of grey matter within the left hippocampus (following mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)) and Hebb’s Law (“neurons that fire together, wire together”).

The single, most important brief in this book, however, is the circadian rhythm or what is also known as the human circadian biological clock. Mitchell refers to this as “a combination of physiological, mental and behavioural changes in the body that, among other things, regulate our sleep-wake cycle…abnormal rhythms linked to insomnia, fatigue, depression, bipolar and seasonal affective disorder”.

Rhythm, it would seem, is at the heart of mindfulness – an attempt to ‘take back’ control of our pace and awareness; its guru, Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn “in the late 1970s” integrating meditation, yoga and science to form MBSR. Two decades later came mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) along with pejorative labels in relation to that word ‘cognitive’ and converts to boot (those that wished to surrender their so-called ‘irrational beliefs’).

Anyone that has felt more settled, rhythmic or cadenced after a walk, swim or bike ride will deem much of what Mitchell has to say common sense. Why track or overanalyse the feeling of serenity or abide by the potentially insidious, mindfulness-bastardisation method of employee performance enhancement?

In some respects, therefore, Mood Swings inadvertently turns us all into cold auditors and automatons.

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This review was first published in Private Practice, March 2018 issue, © BACP

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