Mindfulness can help us get better control of our emotions, which then leads to healthier behaviours and healthier bodies. It can also improve our sleep, increase memory and boost our immune systems.
It can be difficult to practice mindfulness in a busy environment at first, but with time and regularity it becomes easier.
1. Reduces Stress
Many people find it hard to get ahead in life because they are constantly stressed. Mindfulness can help reduce stress levels and improve overall health by improving the ability to focus on the present.
Researchers have found that long-term mindfulness meditation produces changes in brain structure and activity, particularly in the areas associated with attention and emotion regulation. These changes may help explain why mindfulness produces positive outcomes in cardiovascular and general health.
One of the most interesting findings of mindfulness research is that when practicing mindful meditation, we are less likely to have negative and unhelpful emotional reactions during stressful situations. The reason is that when you are aware of your thoughts, you can choose to not engage with them.
While mindfulness originally came from Buddhist spiritual meditation, it has gained popularity in recent years and does not require any religious connection. Even a small daily practice can have a profound effect on your overall health.
2. Boosts Your Immune System
Excess stress is known to suppress the immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness. Mindfulness is a powerful stress reliever and has been shown to boost your immune system.
Several studies have found that mindfulness meditation increases electrical activity in brain-function regions related to the immune system. These include the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and the right hippocampus, which act as your immune system’s command center. When these parts of the brain are stimulated, your body’s natural immunity functions more effectively.
Additionally, the calming effects of mindfulness can decrease blood pressure and lead to better heart health. This is especially important for those who take medication to lower blood pressure, or for those who have a family history of high blood pressure.
3. Reduces Anxiety
Mindfulness can help reduce anxiety and depression, which in turn boosts your immune system. That’s because it trains you to notice your internal thoughts about the past or future without judgment and allows you to let them go rather than feeding into them. It also helps you reframe stressful situations and see the positive aspects of your life.
Although mindfulness originated as a Buddhist spiritual meditation practice, it’s now a recognized stress management technique. It can be done sitting still or while doing daily tasks like eating, walking, or even interacting with others. It has been shown to improve sleep, boost energy, and even enhance immune response. That’s why many people use it to complement other treatments for anxiety symptoms such as medication or therapy.
4. Improves Sleep
Mindfulness encourages you to notice your thoughts without judgement, which can be beneficial when it comes to eating. For example, if you tend to snack on junk food while watching TV or reading, mindfulness can help you focus on the moment when your cravings are strongest and remind you that a healthier alternative is available.
Researchers have found that mindfulness practices can also improve sleep. In one study, a military group who practiced mindfulness meditation experienced improvements in their working memory capacity, compared to a nonmeditating group.
It’s possible that these benefits are due to neuroplasticity, a process by which the brain can change and adapt over time. This is especially true following a traumatic event, such as a stroke. Long-term meditation has been linked to increased thickness of the cortex, which is responsible for cognitive functions like attention and sensory processing (Vestergaard-Poulsen et al., 2012).
5. Reduces Depression
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t just reduce stress, it can help with depression as well. One study found that people who practiced mindfulness were less depressed than those who didn’t. The difference was due to the fact that mindfulness reduced rumination, worry and expressive suppression, all of which are positively correlated with depression.
Mindfulness can also help you learn to cope with negative emotions such as grief, loss and failure. It can help you to become more aware of your thoughts and feelings as they arise, without judgment.
Although mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist spiritual meditation practices, it’s now incorporated into psychological therapies and stress reduction programmes, such as MBSR, pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It can be taught through in-person group courses, online or 1-to-1 with a mindfulness coach.