What is Mindfulness and How Can it Help?
For thousands of years, people all over the world have been using meditation for spiritual and religious reasons. Now, meditation and mindfulness are mainstream. Mental health is a huge component of overall health, and many people are struggling with it. The demand for natural coping strategies is at an all-time high.
There’s a large body of research that says mindfulness is effective for managing stress and improving well-being. From an outsider’s perspective, mindfulness meditation can feel like something that’s hard to access. But this isn’t the case. Anyone can tap into the benefits of mindfulness and get started with a few simple steps.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness and meditation are often used interchangeably. While they are similar, they are not entirely the same. There are several types of meditation practices. Meditation is typically practiced for a period of time. In comparison, you can apply mindfulness to any situation.
Mindfulness consists of two parts: attention and acceptance. It’s about training your mind to focus on the present moment. You observe your feelings and emotions with no judgment and without being overly reactive. Mindfulness is often referred to as a psychological state or a way to process information.
By paying attention to your thoughts and accepting what you feel, you can remain present. Avoid dwelling on the past or imagining the future, but stay in the present moment.
The aim of mindfulness is to notice how you feel but let it go and move forward. Most people have the ability to feel present. Being mindful requires you to cultivate abilities that you already possess. You don’t need to change who you are. Instead, there are several disciplines and practices that allow you to nurture mindfulness.
How Can Mindfulness Help Mental and Physical Well-Being?
One of the reasons behind the use of mindfulness for mental and physical well-being is that anyone can benefit from it. There’s no financial barrier to mindfulness; it just needs a little consistency and awareness. Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of mindfulness.
Americans are stressed. The Stress in America report by the American Psychological Association shows how high inflation and global uncertainty add to an already full plate. All this stress comes when many people are still trying to deal with the effects of a global pandemic.
Several studies show that practicing mindfulness reduces stress. Mindfulness-based therapy may be helpful in changing the cognitive processes that underlie various clinical issues.
Improve Mental Health
Mental health is an umbrella term that includes your emotional, social, and psychological well-being. It affects everything from how you think to how you feel and act.
Statistics show that about 19.86% of Americans experience mental health issues. That’s almost 50 million people with behavioral, mental, or emotional disorders
According to Dr. Tirrell De Gannes, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist in New York, some of the main benefits of mindfulness include:
- Decreased anxiety
- Increase in focus
- Fewer moments of dissociation
- Better connection with one’s inner thoughts and feelings.
Help Anxiety and Depression
Some studies suggest that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is just as effective as medication, particularly in preventing depression relapse. Ruminating on past mistakes or failures takes up a lot of energy and can put you in a negative head space. Mindfulness practices encourage you to break away from spiraling thoughts and focus on the present.
Dr. Tirrell De Gannes says, “I often use these techniques to reduce anxiety in the moment or for aiding with exposures.
In a session, this would involve finding a quiet space, getting comfortable, and going through a few to a litany of different techniques to practice in session and reduce tension in the mind and body.”
Increase Overall Well-Being
Research suggests that mindfulness can benefit many different aspects of well-being, including:
- Improve mood
- Decrease job burnout
- Increase positive emotions
- Lower anxiety
People who practice mindfulness regularly are less likely to worry about the past or the future as they stay present. They tend to also form deeper connections with those around them.
Mindfulness can also benefit your physical well-being. Stress and anxiety can take their toll on your body. By learning tools to help you cope and increase resilience, mindfulness can help to improve physical health, too, such as:
- Improve sleep
- Lower blood pressure
- Support a healthy heart
- May decrease cognitive decline
Boost Immune System
Many factors influence your immune system, like diet, exercise, age, genetics, and stress. When you burn the candle at both ends, and you’re stressed out, your immune system can take a bit of a hit. Your stress hormone can reduce how effective your immune system is, making you more susceptible to infections.
Mindfulness meditation is not an overnight fix to a robust immune system. But by coping and lowering stress levels, you can help your immune system work as it should. Research shows that meditation appears to have a significant effect on the immune system and health because of its ability to reduce stress.
How to Start Mindfulness
Anyone can start being more mindful and practicing mindfulness. There’s no perfect way to get started; it’s about trying to find something that works for you and your routine. There are plenty of free resources online, apps, and other techniques you can use to give it a go.
“Headspace (the app), YouTube mindfulness, or simply set an alarm at random times and focus on your breathing for a solid minute. All great starts” says Dr. Tirrell De Gannes.
Start small and work your way up. When you have time, set aside ten minutes of your day to take a moment. Sometimes the thought of sitting with your thoughts for an hour seems overwhelming. But you can use various methods to feel more present that are completely achievable for you.
Other ways to start being more mindful include:
- Focus on one task at a time instead of multitasking
- Slow down and think about your breathing
- Eat without a TV, computer, or phone
- Move your body, whether it’s walking or yoga
- Spend time walking in nature
Remember to treat yourself the way you would treat a friend; be kind and accepting. Try to go with the flow. Don’t be harsh on yourself if your thoughts wander and become louder. It won’t be perfect the first time, so keep trying. Over time, it starts to become easier to focus your attention, accept the way you feel, and cope better in general.
You can practice mindfulness in several ways, but the goal remains the same. That’s to stay present and pay attention to your thoughts and feelings without judgment. Focus on being kind to yourself and redirect your mind to sensations in the present. Mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall well-being.
If you’re struggling with mental health issues or would like to learn how you could use mindfulness techniques in your life, speak to one of our dedicated therapists at The Thriving Center of Psychology.
Book an online appointment or contact one of our offices in New York, Florida, California, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oregon.