“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” - Pema Chödrön
It can be tough to be mindful in a society that is fast paced and intent on getting as much done as possible in as little time as possible. It is almost as if rushing and speeding through life is valued and slowing down or pausing before acting is discouraged. Many of us know that, as a result of speeding along through life, we often miss out on important information or cues from the environment. When we are not being mindful, there is a tendency to feel numb, spacey, rushed, or frantic. Simply noticing that this is occurring is the first step towards intervening and making the choice to slow down and become mindful.
Benefits of Mindfulness
There are a wealth of benefits associated with cultivating mindfulness. According to an article by Harvard Health Publications, mindfulness has proven beneficial to well-being, physical health, and mental health in the following ways:
(1) Supports Attitudes that Lead to Satisfaction in Life
When you are connected to the present moment and mindful of your internal experience and your relationships with others, there is a resulting sense of satisfaction in life. Being more present results in an attitude of greater openness, curiosity, and acceptance, which is noticeable to yourself and others. When your attitude shifts in this way as a result of increasing your capacity for mindfulness, there is a natural increase in overall life satisfaction.
(2) Easier to Savor Life’s Pleasures
Mindfulness means being completely present and attuned to your ongoing moment-by-moment experience in the world. When you are more present to your life, it is much easier to notice small joys and reasons to feel gratitude in each unfolding moment. This attitude of mindfulness leads to a greater ability to savor the present moment and enjoy the pleasures in life with greater awareness.
(3) Less Likely to Become Caught Up in Worries About the Past & Future
Mindfulness is all about being aware of and attuned to the present moment. When you are truly present and noticing all aspects of the present moment with complete awareness, it is no longer possible to become caught up in worries about the past or the future. Mindfulness allows you to defuse from those internal anxieties, recognizing that all you have is this moment… right now.
(4) Helps Relieve Stress
Cultivating an attitude and practice of mindfulness naturally results in lowered levels of subjective stress. Mindfulness makes it easier to tolerate discomfort in the present moment, focusing on being able to sit with uncomfortable sensations, thoughts, and feelings, rather than running away from them. Stress naturally dissipates when it is recognized, accepted, and released.
(5) Treats Heart Disease
Mindfulness meditation has been shown to significantly reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms are commonly experienced by individuals who go on to experience heart disease in the future. The idea is that cultivating an attitude of mindfulness can reduce these symptoms in the present that are often dangerous precursors to future heart disease.
(6) Lowers Blood Pressure
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has demonstrated significant success in not only lowering levels of subjective stress, but also in actually lowering blood pressure of participants.
(7) Reduce Chronic Pain
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has also shown remarkable success in treating individuals who experience chronic pain. Mindfulness allows you to learn how to sit with discomfort and develop a different type of relationship with chronic pain. Rather than fighting against it and creating additional unnecessary suffering, mindfulness allows you to embrace it, accept it, and let it go.
(8) Improve Sleep
Practicing mindfulness is a wonderful way to calm the mind and body in preparation for sleep. Mindfulness allows you to calm anxious thoughts and emotions, quieting the incessant chatter in the mind that often keeps people awake for hours. When you learn to adopt a stance of mindfulness toward sleep, the ritual of getting ready for bed and falling asleep can take on a new meaning of relaxation and acceptance rather than anxiety and rumination.
(9) Alleviate Gastrointestinal Difficulties
Mindfulness meditation has proven to be successful in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal difficulties, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). While the exact mechanism of how mindfulness meditation alleviates symptoms of IBS remains unknown, studies have indicated that a mindfulness meditation group provided better symptom relief than a comparison group that offered mutual support for IBS sufferers.
(10) Reduce Symptoms of Depression
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has demonstrated marked success in the treatment of depressive disorders. It is effective because the mindfulness interventions involved in MBCT work to help people identify factors that make them more vulnerable to downward mood spirals and begin to more clearly see the connection between those downward spirals and ways in which they lose touch with the things that make life meaningful.
(11) Treat Substance Abuse
Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) is an 8-week mind/body approach to help people who are actively recovering from substance abuse. This treatment combines clinically-proven treatments of Relapse Prevention Therapy with well-known aspects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). The underlying idea behind applying mindfulness to substance abuse is to gain greater present-moment awareness of triggers to use substances, recognize the connection between mind and body, and to successfully overcome urges to use substances through active mindfulness interventions.
(12) Treat Symptoms of Eating Disorders
Mindfulness helps people who struggle with eating disorders to break free from the chaotic cycle of shame and confusion that underlie many behaviors associated with their symptoms. Particular mindfulness-based techniques allow people to defuse from distressing thoughts and emotions related to food-related stress and preoccupation. Mindfulness provides the necessary space between you as the “observer” and your experience as the “observed.”
(13) Reduce Relationship Conflicts
The practice of mindfulness enables you to take a new perspective on the inevitable conflicts that arise in relationships. Through mindfulness, you can become more adept at stepping back from the situation and taking in all available information. The alternative to this mindful stance is often a viewpoint that is selectively filtering out information or making hasty judgments. Developing a loving and mindful attitude with romantic partners allows you to take a fresh perspective on recurrent problems/issues and look at them in a new way – less entrenched and fused to your own goals and needs.
(14) Ease Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Cultivating a mindfulness practice in your life can significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, such as those common to generalized anxiety disorder. In fact, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has demonstrated success in the treatment of this common type of anxiety disorder. Through mindfulness, you can learn how to tolerate and sit with uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety with less fear, worry, and struggle. When you sit with distress and allow it to “be,” it generally reduces suffering.
(15) Alleviate Suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Practicing mindfulness encourages you to embrace uncomfortable or obsessive thoughts, rather than fight against them and deny their existence. When you learn to welcome all aspects of your experience – even the unpleasant parts – it becomes less frightening and difficult to handle. For the treatment of OCD, it is suggested that you practice noticing times when you are about to mindlessly engage in a ritual or compulsion. During these moments, it is helpful to focus on the breath and allow yourself to welcome, rather than fight against, the fear. Meta-analyses suggest that formal mindfulness training decreases the form of distress common to OCD (Baer 2003; Bishop 2002).
Overall, the fundamental benefit of cultivating mindfulness is that it enables you to learn how to accept your experiences (including distressing thoughts and painful emotions) rather than react to them with fear and experiential avoidance. Through the present-moment recognition of your experience precisely as it is – not as you wish it would be – you can become cognizant of an inner strength to handle life’s difficulties with greater poise and precision than you knew was possible. Mindfulness means noticing and accepting this moment… right now. Once you accept what is, you have the power to change this present moment into what it may become.
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Cultivating mindfulness to reduce stress and anxiety. Harvard Health Publications, Retrieved from http://www.helpguide.org/harvard/mindfulness.htm
Featured image: Danbo, llegó la primavera by Vvillamon / CC BY-SA 2.0