“The mind is just like a muscle– the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets, and the more it can expand.” – Idowu Koyenikan
We live in such a busy world. We fold the laundry while dinner cooks and we coach children through homework. We plan our days while driving and listening to an uplifting podcast and commuting to work, and then we wear several hats in the office. With the rush to accomplish every necessary task, however, we may find ourselves losing our connection with the present moment—missing out on what we are doing and how we are feeling and what we are thinking in the present. When do we ever stop to notice whether we felt well-rested this morning? Or if we saw the beautiful sunset on our way home from work? Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing our attention on the present moment–even briefly–and accepting it as is. Mindfulness has been found to have a myriad of benefits, ranging from improved health to strengthened relationships. Let’s dive in.
As a reminder, here is a quick example of how to practice mindfulness: Sit on a straight-backed chair or cross-legged on the floor, focus on breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Pay attention to the sensations, feelings, thoughts, and environment in the here-and-now without judging them or labeling them as good or bad. It is important to allow ourselves to notice external sensations such as sounds, sights, and touch that make up the moment-to-moment experience.
Sounds insanely simple, right? Doing this for even just a few minutes each day is grounding, and comes with a plentitude of benefits, not limited to the following:
- Reducing depression. This is one of the most important benefits of mindfulness! Mindfulness combats depression by helping us develop the ability to stay grounded in the present. Where depression often hijacks our brains and causes us to feel like the world is against us or nothing ever goes our way, mindfulness can help us “de-center” from such thoughts.The skill of mindfulness helps stop us from being attached to any one thought and carried down the stream of negativity.
- Lowering stress. Everyone experiences stress. It is everywhere! Mindfulness helps us accept life and experiences—including the naggy companion of stress. A 2016 study concluded that mindfulness was both a simple and cost-effective way to reduce negative emotions, stress, and anxiety. This is because mindfulness increases our resilience to stress and helps us cope more effectively. Similarly, because mindfulness grounds us to the present, we are more able to monitor and attend to current experiences rather than fretting about potential future events or dwelling on what happened in the past.
- Managing feelings. Emotional regulation is the ability to sort through and deal with emotions in a productive way. This means being able to dismiss or work through what we are feeling depending on the situation. The emotional regulation benefits of mindfulness can make it easier to cope with our feelings, ultimately improving many areas of life, including relationships and our overall well-being.
- Boosting memory + brain health. Mindfulness also has the potential to boost our memory. All of us have lost our phone or car keys at one point in time; even simple, everyday memory problems can be a major hassle for you and I. Mindfulness can help us focus on our thoughts and remember things more readily, including our ability to think flexibly and clearly.
- Enhancing relationships. A 2018 study found that people who were more mindful also tended to be more accepting of their partner’s flaws and imperfections. It makes sense: Instead of focusing on our partner’s flaws and trying to change them, mindfulness makes it easier to accept that our partners are not always perfect and to love them despite their imperfections. Imagine that! This is because mindfulness brings emotional maturity which can allow us to be more accepting of others. This leads to greater relationship satisfaction!
- Improving physical health. Research also suggests that mindfulness can help relieve symptoms of a range of different health conditions. A team of researchers at Brown University created an eight-week mindfulness program for people with high blood pressure where they studied whether the program increased participants’ awareness of their habits. The study found that participants chose a healthier diet after taking the course. As they focused on their mental health through mindfulness, they ended up making healthier choices all around for their greater physical health! I cannot emphasize it enough–the brain is powerful! If we help our brains to be grounded and healthy through mindfulness, this will carry over into our physical health as well!
The benefits of mindfulness are staggering and far-reaching; from lowering stress, to decreasing depression, to improving emotional regulation, to strengthening relationships and bettering our overall health…what are we waiting for? If just a few minutes a day can yield such impressive benefits, you and I should definitely make time for this beautiful practice of mindfulness. Maybe we can make it a regular habit this year!
Melissa Cluff is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist based in North Texas, providing face-to-face and telehealth therapy options to clients in Texas.
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