What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations used in the modern world as a relaxing technique.
So basically “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
When we meditate, it doesn’t help us to fixate on the benefits, but rather just to do the practice, and yet there are benefits, or no one would do it. When we’re mindful, we reduce stress, enhance performance, gain insight and awareness through observing our own mind, and increase our attention to others’ well-being.
While there are a lot of baseless claims about mindfulness out there, there are also some genuine benefits and positive effects of mindfulness documented by scientific research. Here are 5 of the most common benefits you would probably expect from mindfulness.
#1 - Decreased stress levels
Everybody seems to be feeling more and more stressed out these days, and mindfulness is considered a key element to lower your daily stress. While mindfulness may not change the actual stressors in your life, it can help you to respond better and more calmly to stressful events. A study by Donald and Atkins in 2016 found evidence that mindfulness produced less avoidance and more approach coping as a response to stress than relaxation or self-affirmation controls.
Mindfulness can also help alleviate stress by improving your ability to deal with difficult emotions, leading to a better mood and better ability to handle stress.
When we start to experience symptoms of stress in our lives, we can feel anxious and worried, irritable, and possibly argumentative. We might also have trouble sleeping, low levels of energy, have trouble concentrating and find ourselves clenching our jaws or grinding our teeth at night.
On the other hand, when we consciously start to relax, which can be achieved through mindfulness, you can experience the benefits for yourself, including a better functioning immune system, lowered blood pressure and heart rate, increased attention and focus, better thinking and problem-solving abilities, decreased anxiety levels, and feelings of calm, connection and well-being.
#2 - Increased ability to deal with illness
Maybe one of the most studied groups on the impact of mindfulness is cancer patients and others who are suffering from a chronic or potentially terminal illness. Mindfulness may not take away their symptoms, but it can help make them more manageable.
For example, the eCALM trial, a therapy program for cancer patients, found that mindfulness can reduce symptoms of stress, enhance spirituality and non-reactivity to experience, facilitate post-traumatic growth, and relieve fatigue.
Another cancer-specific mindfulness program decreased overthinking and worry and increased observing and non-judging attitudes in cancer patients.
For those suffering from chronic lower back pain, mindfulness was found to have improved patients’ ability to function independently and suffer from less back pain than before treatment. Mindfulness can also help patients to change the focus away from their pain, improving their quality of life.
A study on lung cancer patients and their partners showed that mindfulness could instigate a process of positive change in patients and their partners, as well as relieving caregiver burden in partners.
Similarly, a review of family caregivers found that mindfulness can decrease stress, depression, and anxiety in those caring for a loved one who is sick.
#3 - Facilitation of recovery
Mindfulness can not only help you deal with a chronic or potentially terminal illness or life-threatening event; it can also help you recover from it.
A study of Chinese breast cancer survivors provided evidence that mindfulness can enhance post-traumatic growth and decrease stress and anxiety in cancer patients. Another study of young breast cancer survivors showed that women who practised mindfulness were more likely to experience increased self-kindness, decreased overthinking, and decreased stress.
Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation have also been found to decrease anxiety and facilitate post-traumatic growth in breast cancer survivors.
#4 – Overcoming depression
Surprisingly, mindfulness meditation is said to be on par with antidepressants in preventing depression relapse. It has been found to decrease depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress in college students, as well as increasing self-compassion when compared with yoga alone.
More recently, some researchers are beginning to explore how exactly the mindfulness benefits for depression really work. They hope that by coming to a more refined understanding of the neural mechanisms of mindfulness, they’ll be able to better apply it to a broader range of people who suffer from depression.
One of the ways in which mindfulness can help treat depression is through enhancing your ability to regulate your emotions. Mindfulness provides the tools needed to step back from intense negative emotions, identify them, and accept them instead of fighting them. This allows mindful thinkers to regulate their emotions better, leading to better coping and management of depression.
Another study from Costa and Barnhofer in 2016 backs this theory. They found that, when compared to guided imagery relaxation, a short training in mindfulness helped participants struggling with depression to reduce their symptoms through greater emotion regulation.
#5 - Improved general health
Beyond the many mental health benefits of mindfulness, it can also improve your general health.
For example, a study of how the two facets of mindfulness impact health behaviours found that practising mindfulness can enhance or increase many behaviours related to health, like getting regular health check-ups, being physically active, using seat belts, and avoiding nicotine and alcohol.
Another study on mindfulness and health showed that mindfulness is related to improved cardiovascular health through a lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity, and a healthier body mass index.
Additionally, mindfulness has been positively linked with lower blood pressure, especially when the person is skilled in non-judging and non-reactivity.
Finally, overweight and obese practitioners of mindfulness can also take advantage of the benefits mindfulness has to offer. In a study on the impacts of mindfulness on the psychological and physical health of obese or overweight adults, researchers found that mindfulness helped participants lose weight, improve their eating behaviours and attitudes, and decrease depression and anxiety.
Mindfulness is a practice that is so easy anyone can do it! Gaining these benefits can be as simple as closing your eyes and being silent for a few minutes a day. You can practice mindfulness with a few breaths, or even for a few mindful moments.
When we start to experience symptoms of stress in our lives, we can feel anxious and worried, irritable, and often snappy and argumentative. You might also find you have problems sleeping, low levels of energy and fatigue. You may notice you have trouble concentrating or experience cloudy thinking and find yourself clenching your jaws or grinding your teeth at night.
On the other hand, finding a daily meditation practice will give you energy, release anxiety and calm your nervous system. When you reduce your stress, your body benefits. Studies have shown that meditation increases optimism, strengthens memory and focus, improves sleep, lowers blood pressure and feelings of calm, connection and wellbeing. If you want to learn how this can help you, find out more about my Beginners Meditation Masterclass here.