Mindfulness is the practice of engaging and focusing on the present. We live remarkably busy lives, so slowing down and focusing on what is going on in front of us can be more challenging than it may seem. However, doing so has been shown to have a variety of benefits for the mind, body, and overall health.
Mindfulness has been shown to have a wide range of physical and emotional benefits, including improved mood, decreased stress, anxiety, and irritability, and improved attention, concentration, and memory.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being engaged and present with what we are doing. This requires the regulation of attention to stay engaged with the task at hand. Mindfulness really exercises for the brain. It takes practice to train the brain to be active and engaged with tasks at hand, so mindfulness helps train the brain to do so. This, in turn, results in improved mood and increased attention, focus, and productivity.
Mindfulness may include attention enhancing exercises, staying present in the moment. And here-and-now, working on accepting ourselves and enhancing awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. There are many strategies to do so, and the benefits expand to many areas of our lives.
Mindfulness and Stress Reduction
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a well-studied approach to decrease chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. More specifically, research has indicated that MBSR reduces activity in the amygdala, the brain region responsible for activating the stress response when danger is present or perceived.
With chronic stress and anxiety, the amygdala tends to be overactivated, resulting in many uncomfortable physical, emotional, and behavioral consequences of the stress response.
This may include increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle tension, digestive issues, headaches, insomnia, and other symptoms related to chronic activation of the stress response by the amygdala.
Because the activity is reduced in this area with mindfulness strategies, the stress response is activated with less frequency and intensity.
MBSR is particularly helpful in decreasing rumination that is present in anxiety and often results in racing thoughts that are difficult to turn off. Anxious thoughts tend to take us into the future and to imagine hypothetical situations that can further increase anxiety. Mindfulness helps us to focus on the present, which can decrease rumination associated with anxiety.
Mindfulness and Depression
A hallmark of depression also includes ruminative thoughts. When feeling down or depressed, we tend to have a fast stream of negative thoughts about ourselves (“I’m such a failure), the world (“Everything is upsetting in life”), and the future (“My life is a mess and always will be”). Once these thoughts take place, stopping them can be challenging.
- Mindfulness has been shown to decrease rumination in depression by stopping and weakening the stream of these thoughts and shifting our thoughts back to the present.
- It can also help people suffering from depression become aware of these thoughts, notice them, and weaken them.
- Mindfulness helps us to notice the thoughts without giving them as much meaning or power. This can be an immensely helpful tool for managing mood and decreasing symptoms of depression as a result.
Mindfulness and Cognitive Abilities
Mindfulness has also been shown to improve attention, concentration, and focus. This is because mindfulness trains attention and concentration, allowing for better focus in the workplace and in our other duties.
To understand mindfulness further, it is helpful to understand the neuroscience behind it. Studies have shown that those who engage in mindfulness practices regularly had decreased cortical thinning of areas of the brain responsible for attention, memory, and sensory processing. With improved attention and memory, productivity is higher, which can boost mood and decrease stress. When we feel attentive, motivated, and productive, our mood and overall happiness level tend to be higher.
Mindfulness can result in improved mood, decreased stress and tension, and better attention, focus, and productivity. Because mindfulness causes cortical changes, decreases the stress response, and disrupts rumination in both anxiety and depression, it is a powerful mood management tool.
Mindfulness is a mental training exercise, so practicing it and making it a consistent part of your routine is the key to success in experiencing the benefits mentioned above. Incorporating mindfulness into your regular routine is a great strategy to enhance the mood on a regular basis.