When is the last time you took a minute to yourself to just...breathe?
If you can't remember, you're not alone. From work meetings to child care to exercising to keeping up with the rest of your to-do list, you've got a lot on your plate. As a result, you may feel a little (or a lot) stressed.
Mindfulness — the practice of purposefully directing your attention to the present moment — is a great way to combat stress, anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Here are the benefits of mindfulness — and how to get started with this stress-reducing practice.
How Can Mindfulness Benefit My Well-Being?
Benefitting both your body and mind, mindfulness is an all-encompassing approach to wellness. By tuning into your thoughts and emotions, mindfulness can transform potentially negative experiences into positive outcomes.
There are two major components to mindfulness:
- Attention: Focusing on your experiences and emotions — both positive and negative.
- Acceptance: Observing your emotions without judgment, then letting them go.
Mindfulness can lower your body’s reaction to stress, which has a domino effect on the rest of your health.
Mindfulness Improves Your Mental Health
Challenges in life are inevitable, but how you react to them is key — and this starts with the brain.
Mindfulness impacts stress pathways in the brain that are associated with attention and emotion regulation. By helping you to focus on the present, it can help you avoid responding to life challenges with negative thoughts or unhelpful reactions, such as worry and obsessions over a negative experience.
Mindfulness has been shown to benefit conditions, such as:
- Depression and anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Couples’ conflicts
Mindfulness Improves Your Physical Health
Your mental and physical health are deeply intertwined. By improving your mental health, you’ll be supporting your physical health, as well. Mindfulness techniques have been shown to:
- Relieve stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduce chronic pain
- Treat heart disease
- Boost the immune system
- Alleviate stomach problems
- Improve sleep, which benefits both your mental and physical health
- Produce endorphins (chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers)
Mindfulness Improves Your Quality of Life
If improved mental and physical health weren’t enough incentive, mindfulness techniques can also help you experience a more fulfilled life. By learning to focus on the present moment, mindfulness can help you:
- Engage fully in activities
- Handle difficult situations
- Avoid worrying about the past or present
- Form deep connections with others
- Savor pleasurable moments in life
How to Get Started Practicing Mindfulness
There is no one way to engage in mindfulness. But no matter your approach, the goal remains the same — pay attention to your current thoughts and sensations without any judgment, and let the experiences pass.
Mindfulness allows you to focus on:
- Body sensations, such as an itch or tingling
- Sensory factors, including sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches
- Emotions, such as joy, anger, frustration
- Cravings, such as for an addictive substance or behavior
Basic Mindfulness Meditation
One way to engage in mindfulness is a basic mindfulness meditation:
- Sit on a chair with a straight back or crossed-legged on the floor.
- Choose an aspect of your breathing — such as the feeling of air flowing into your nostril and out of your mouth, or the feeling of your abdomen rising as you breathe in and out — and focus on it.
- After narrowing your concentration on that sensation, start to widen your focus. Pay attention to other sounds, sensations, and ideas.
- Consider each thought or feeling without judging it as good or bad.
- If your mind begins to race, go back to your breathing — and then expand your awareness once again.
Informal Mindfulness: Focusing on the Present
A less formal way to engage in mindfulness is to pay attention to the present moment:
- Choose any task or experience, such as eating, showering, or walking.
- Focus your attention on the sensations in your body.
- Breathe in through your nose, sending air downward toward your lower belly and allowing your belly to expand fully.
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- Pay attention to the sensations of each full breath.
- Continue with your task slowly and with complete deliberation by engaging and savoring each sensation, including each sight, touch and savor.
- If you notice your mind begins to wander, gently bring your focus back to the sensations of the moment.
Mindfulness: Focus, Acceptance, and Stress-Relief
Focus is key to mindfulness. However, this takes practice, and sometimes, it may not feel relaxing at all. But with patience and acceptance, mindfulness can help you become more self-aware and comfortable with your day-to-day experiences — both good and bad.
By engaging in mindfulness techniques, you are investing in yourself and your health. This can not only help you beat stress in the moment, but also for many years to come.
Learn More About Mindfulness!
Do you have more questions about how mindfulness can help you beat stress? Contact the Penn Program for Mindfulness and sign up for a Penn Program for Mindfulness course.
Related Mindfulness Information from Chester County Hospital: