Mindfulness Can Help Improve Your Mental Health
Millions of people live with anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental health conditions that affect their day-to-day lives. People are always looking for a way to manage their mental health effectively. One such practice many people find helpful is mindfulness. But what really is mindfulness?
This concept has been around for thousands of years but only gained popularity in western cultures in the 1970s. It draws from ancient Hindu and Buddhist philosophy and traditions. Many psychologists are enamored with it, making it one of the most widely researched areas in modern psychology.
It has proven time and time again to be an effective way to help those manage their mental health. Even the team at Lifeworks Counseling Center recognizes the many mental health benefits mindfulness presents.
Lifeworks Counseling Center understands the importance of prioritizing your mental health. As last year has shown us, life can throw many things at us that impact our mental health negatively. Practices such as mindfulness can help you manage your mental well-being. If you are looking for counseling or would like to learn more about mindfulness, contact Lifeworks today.
History of Mindfulness
Mindfulness is deeply rooted in Buddhist philosophy and tradition. It focuses on bringing mental peace by focusing on the present, paying attention to your current thoughts and sensations. Instead of focusing on intrusive thoughts, mindfulness asks you to take the time to push away all other thoughts and experience all the sensations that come with being present.
These ancient Hindu and Buddhist traditions emerged over 2,500 years ago. As you can imagine, mindfulness has a close connection to religion and spirituality. While it prioritizes being present, it also emphasizes living a fulfilled life by showing love and kindness to all living creatures. Even though this concept has been around for centuries, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the western world became aware of it.
In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn created a mindfulness-based stress-reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He knew about the religious connection to Buddhism. However, he believed that mindfulness did not need to be tied strictly to religion. He took the concept out of a religious context and instead highlighted the practice’s health benefits.
Kabat-Zinn initially adopted this method to help those living with chronic pain. However, he adopted an approach that helped patients relieve mental distress. In the decades that followed, cognitive-behavioral therapists began paying attention to it, studying its potential uses. Even those in neuroscience examined its physical and psychological effects. Today, mindfulness has swiftly become a popular practice in helping people improve their health, both physical and mental.
Benefits of Mindfulness
In the years since mindfulness reached western audiences, its uses have grown. While it began as a way to help those living with chronic pain, it has now evolved into something else entirely. Due to its countless benefits, its uses continue to grow. It offers plenty of benefits, some of which include:
One of Kabat-Zinn’s earliest applications of mindfulness was in stress-reduction. Further studies have proved its effectiveness in regulating stress. A 2016 study found that present-moment awareness helped individuals respond to daily stressors much better. Another study found that mindfulness led to more approach and less avoidance coping over relaxation and self-affirmation controls.
This method helps people approach their stressors head-on instead of avoiding them, allowing them to develop the skills to manage their stress in a much more efficient and conducive manner. It also helps them regulate their emotions, which, in turn, leads to better moods.
Reduces Depressive Symptoms:
Mindfulness can also help you manage and alleviate your symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research comparing mindfulness and yoga found that while both reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, mindfulness was far more effective in increasing self-compassion compared to yoga by itself.
As mentioned before, this technique helps you regulate your emotions. It gives you the tools you need to assess your negative emotions, identify what triggered them, and accept them instead of avoiding them. Those who practice mindfulness also report better coping and management skills.
One of the purposes of mindfulness is to clear your mind of clutter. Its goal is to help you focus on the things that are occurring in the present. A study examined how mindfulness meditation affected people’s ability to focus their attention and suppress distractions. The research involved a group of meditators with plenty of meditating experience and a group with none.
The group with meditation experience performed better in all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness. It also directly correlated with improved cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning.
Increases Cognitive Flexibility:
Mindfulness can also increase your cognitive flexibility (the ability to switch between two different concepts or thoughts or thinking about multiple simultaneously). In addition to reducing one’s emotional reactivity, mindfulness helps individuals develop the skill of self-observation. Furthermore, it also improves your brain’s capacity to adapt to stressful or negative situations better.
Improves Physical Health:
Just as it improves your mental health, mindfulness can improve your physical health, as well. By relieving stress, mindfulness lowers your blood pressure, which improves blood circulation and the delivery of oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. Naturally, this, paired with improved breathing, helps treat heart disease.
Additionally, experts have found that mindfulness has helped individuals lose weight by reducing their stress levels and depression symptoms, as well as helping them improve their eating habits and attitudes.
How to Do It
Anyone can practice mindfulness. You don’t need to go through extensive training to do it. However, it does take a little practice to get the hang of it. First, find a moment where your focus is not needed elsewhere, whether that be right before bed, as soon as you wake up, or while you take a shower. All you need is a small moment.
The first (and arguably most important) step of mindfulness is focusing on your thoughts and sensations. For example, pay attention to how the wind hits your skin. Feel your weight push against your couch or bed. Focus on the smell of your candle or air freshener. Feel the beat of your heart.
Next, focus on how your mind wanders (because it will). Whether it’s thoughts about work, family, or school, your mind can be easily distracted. When this does happen, gently push yourself back to the present. Don’t belittle yourself for becoming distracted. Just recenter and refocus.
There are a host of mindfulness techniques that you can practice on your own to help you manage your mental health. However, if you would still like to learn more or simply need someone to talk to, give Lifeworks Counseling Center a call today.