Mindfulness: Why it’s So Important (and How to Cultivate It)
Mindfulness is an often overlooked practice, despite its proven benefits. When practiced correctly, mindfulness can have powerful effects on mental health, reducing stress, and creating a more positive outlook on life. In this blog post, we'll explore the meaning and importance of mindfulness, and discuss some protocols for introducing it into your life.
What Does Mindfulness Mean?
Mindfulness does not mean that one should strive for constant, uninterrupted peace -- life is never perfectly calm, after all. It is instead about being conscious and aware, with a focus on non-judgemental acceptance of the present moment in its entirety – both the pleasant and unpleasant parts. The practice is the antithesis of rumination, which involves, at best, thinking circles around a problem, and at worst, constantly ruminating on one emotion or experience.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry, mindfulness-based therapies have been found to improve people's mental health. This was demonstrated by mental health outcomes such as reduced stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. The study also found that mindfulness-based counseling correlated to enhanced sense of control, improved emotion regulation, and better psychological well-being.
Mindfulness can also be helpful during times of physical pain, or when facing a medical condition. One study, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, found that introducing mindfulness-based interventions for individuals with chronic pain “lead to significant decreases in anxiety, depression, catastrophizing, pain-related interference, and pain intensity.”
Finally, practicing mindfulness can also be beneficial in terms of increasing empathy and creating stronger relationships with those around you. One systematic review, published in the journal Mindfulness, looked at 126 studies regarding the effects of mindfulness on interpersonal relationships. The study found that, in general, mindfulness had a net positive relationship with empathy and quality of relationships.
Introducing Mindfulness into Your Life
The best way to introduce mindfulness into one’s daily life is to begin small and practice consistently. Here are some simple ways to get started:
1. Breathing exercises: Take some time each day to focus on your breath. Spend a few minutes inhaling and exhaling in a relaxed manner, taking breaks to notice the pause between each breath. Deep, slow breaths can help to relax the body and quiet the mind.
2. Pay attention to your senses: During the day, notice changes in your environment and observations. This can range from paying attention to the colors of the sky, listening to the sound of birds chirping, or noting the temperature of the air.
3. Light meditation: Step away from your desk for a few minutes and take a few moments of quiet time. You can practice counting your breaths, repeat a simple mantra, or open a window and take in the sights and sounds of the outdoors.
4. Nature walks: Take a walk outside, or in a park or forest. Once out, observe the details with an attitude of wonder and curiosity.
5. Set time aside for self-reflection: Spend a few minutes each day in the morning or at night reflecting on the day, noting the positive and challenging moments, and anything that you learned.
Mindfulness is an incredibly important and beneficial activity, whether in isolation or as part of a more comprehensive mental health strategy. It helps to reduce stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Moreover, it can help to improve physical pain, relationships, and empathy. If you’re looking to get started with mindfulness, try some of these simple activities to get started!