There are numerous potential benefits to practicing mindfulness and some simple ways you can start to incorporate it into your day.
Hints and Tips
- Find the right motivation and intention that makes sense for you
- Find the right attitude and attention (each time you practice, try not to judge it as better/worse than last time; you are investing in yourself)
- Find the right time and timing that works for you each time (some days you may only need a few minutes and some days you may feel like practicing for longer)
- Find the right spot and posture (some people like sitting in a chair, some people prefer lying down!)
- Find a routine and stick to it (sometimes you’ll need to be flexible because of changing situations but it helps to have a minimum commitment to develop a routine that you can stick to in the long-term)
- Take a couple of minutes to notice your breathing. Sense the flow of the breath, feel the rise and fall of your belly.
- Notice what you are doing as you are doing it and tune into your senses. For example, when you are eating, notice the colour, texture and taste of the food.
- Take some time to simply be. When your mind wanders to thinking, gently bring it back to your breath.
- Recognize that thoughts are simply thoughts; you don’t need to believe them or react to them.
- Notice where you tend to zone out (e.g. driving, doing dishes, brushing teeth). Practice bringing awareness to one activity each day for a week then try being mindful during an additional activity the next week.
Mindfulness is considered a key element in reducing stress. Numerous studies have shown that present-moment awareness facilitates a healthy adaptive response to daily stressors (Donald, Atkins, Parker, Christie, and Ryan, 2016). Another study (Donald and Atkins, 2016) also showed that mindfulness produced less avoidance and encouraged better coping than relaxation or self-affirmation techniques. It can also help alleviate stress by improving emotion regulation, which leads to a better mood as well as better ability to handle stress (Remmers, Topolinski, and Koole, 2016).
Enhanced Ability to Deal with Illness
Mindfulness has been found to improve patients’ quality of life, reduce pain, relieve fatigue, enhance vigor (Zernicke, Campbell, Speca, Ruff, Tamagawa, and Carlson, 2016; Cherkin, Sherman, Balderson, Cook, Anderson, Hawkes, Hansen, and Turner, 2016; Garland and Howard, 2013). In patients who are suffering from chronic or potentially terminal illness, including those living with cancer, mindfulness has been found to make the symptoms of stress and pain more manageable, as well as reduce their general suffering.
It has also been found that caregivers have experienced a decrease in stress, depression, and anxiety which are common challenges faced by those caring for a loved one who is sick (Li, Yuan, and Zhang, 2016).
Facilitation of Recovery
Studies have also shown that it can help you recover from significant illnesses. A study of young breast cancer survivors showed that women who practised mindfulness were more likely to experience increased self-kindness, decreased rumination, and decreased stress (Boyle, Stanton, Ganz, Crespi, and Bower, 2017). Another study of breast cancer survivors showed it enhanced post-traumatic recovery and a decrease in stress and anxiety (Zhang, Zhou, Feng, Fan, Zeng, and Wei, 2017). Mindfulness and other related practices such as yoga and meditation have also been found to decrease anxiety and facilitate post-traumatic recovery and growth as well as increase vigour and spirituality (Tamagawa, Speca, Stephen, Lawlor-Savage, and Carlson, 2015).
Decreased Depressive Symptoms
Mindfulness has also been found to decrease depressive symptoms and is considered an effective supplemental treatment (Falsafi, 2016). One of the ways it is considered helpful in treating depression is by enhancing the ability to regulate emotions. It provides tools to step back from intense negative emotions, allowing a person to identify them and accept them, leading to better coping. One study found that even brief training in mindfulness helped participants struggling with depression to reduce their symptoms (Costa and Barnhofer, 2016).
Another study also found that it helped people feel better as well as reduce their health care costs (Shawyer, Enticott, Özmen, Inder, and Meadows, 2016).
Improved General Health
Aside from the many mental health benefits, many studies show that mindfulness enhances general health (Jacobs, Wollny, Sim, and Horsch, 2016). One study even showed it to be related to improved cardiovascular health through lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity and a healthier body mass index (Loucks, Britton, Howe, Eaton, and Buka, 2015). It is also linked to lower blood pressure (Tomfohr, Pung, Mills, and Edwards, 2015). Researchers have also found mindfulness has helped participants to lose weight, improve eating behaviours and attitudes whilst also decreasing depression and anxiety which can often impact unhealthy eating (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, and Brennan, 2017).
Some Other Benefits
Researchers have also found that mindfulness has been an effective tool in addressing alcohol dependence, stress and general psychological well-being in students and young adults (Bodenlos, Noonan, and Wells, 2013; Carnby, Cameron, Calhoun, and Buchanan, 2015). It has also been shown to have similar positive effects in stress reduction, emotion regulation, and aiding academic performance in younger children (Harpin, Rossi, Kim, and Swanson, 2016). Some studies have also found that children being bullied were protected against some of the harmful effects such as depressive symptoms by practising mindfulness and helped children to improve social and emotional skills (MccIoy, 2005; Zhou, Liu, Niu, Sun, and Fan, 2017; Kaldis and Abramiuk, 2016).
In the workplace, mindfulness has also been shown to improve job performance with reduced work-related stress, greater job satisfaction, and generally healthier and more productive work environments (Dane and Brummel, 2014; Shonin, Van Gordon, Dunn, Singh, and Griffiths, 2014). It can also reduce stress, fatigue, and psychological distress, especially for employees struggling with poor mental health (Huang, Li, Huang, and Tang 2015).
As it has become increasingly clear that there are benefits to practising mindfulness, more research has been conducted in recent years to understand why it works so well. Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the brain to adapt and change over time and reorganise to ensure that functions continue, even after a traumatic injury (Honan, 2017). When we practice mindfulness, we send a message to our brain that we are more effective at dealing with everyday tasks when we are:
This teaches our brain to adapt and make changes that improve our ability to function mindfully.
While the research about mindfulness is still relatively young, the studies so far have already provided a solid foundation that indicate how mindfulness positively impacts the brain and improves emotion regulation and results in better performance.
The key recommendation to enjoy benefits from mindfulness is to practice regularly and often. The good news is it doesn’t need to be a huge commitment. Even 10 minutes a day can result in better cognition and better self-regulation (Moore, Gruber, Derose, and Malinowski, 2012; Watier and Dubois, 2016).
Dr. Amit Sood, the Chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative, suggests the following mindfulness schedule as a template:
Monday Gratitude – Find things to be thankful for throughout your day, and include them in your lovingkindness meditation or a gratitude journal.
Tuesday Compassion – Set an intention to decrease any pain or suffering in others that you encounter throughout your day.
Wednesday Acceptance – Accept yourself as you are and others as they are; appreciate yourself and other people without trying to change them.
Thursday Meaning and Purpose – Think about your ultimate purpose in life, and where and how you find meaning.
Friday Forgiveness – Forgive yourself first, then extend your forgiveness to others for any past transgressions.
Saturday Celebration – Make sure to take a day to celebrate all the joy in your life and the lives of others.
Sunday Reflection – Reflect on your week, your month, your year, or whatever period of time makes sense to you in the moment; this can be accomplished through meditation, prayer, or simple awareness.
Bodenlos, J. S., Noonan, M., & Wells, S. Y. (2013). Mindfulness and alcohol problems in college students: The mediating effects of stress. Journal of American College Health, 61, 371-378. doi:10.1080/07448481.2013.805714
Boyle, C. C., Stanton, A. L., Ganz, P. A., Crespi, C. M., & Bower, J. E. (2017). Improvements in emotion regulation following mindfulness meditation: Effects on depressive symptoms and perceived stress in younger breast cancer survivors. [Online advance publication]. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. doi:10.1037/ccp0000186
Cherkin, D. C., Sherman, K. J., Balderson, B. H., Cook, A. J., Anderson, M. L., Hawkes, R. J., Hansesn, K. E., & Turner, J. A. (2016). Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction vs cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 315, 1240-1249. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.2323
Costa, A., & Barnhofer, T. (2016). Turning towards or turning away: A comparison of mindfulness meditation and guided imagery relaxation in patients with acute depression. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 44, 410-419. doi:10.1017/S1352465815000387
Dane, E., & Brummel, B. J. (2014). Examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention. Human Relation, 67, 105-128. doi:10.1177/0018726713487753
Donald, J. N., & Atkins, P. W. B. (2016). Mindfulness and coping with stress: Do levels of perceived stress matter? Mindfulness 7, 1423-1436. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0584-y
Donald, J. N., Atkins, P. W. B., Parker, P. D., Christie, A. M., & Ryan, R. M. (2016). Daily stress and the benefits of mindfulness: Examining the daily and longitudinal relations between present-moment awareness and stress responses. Journal of Research in Personality, 65, 30-37. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2016.09.002
Falsafi, N. (2016). A randomized controlled trial of mindfulness versus yoga: Effects on depression and/or anxiety in college students. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, 22, 483-497. doi:10.1177/1078390316663307
Garland, E. L., & Howard, M. O. (2013). Mindfulness-oriented recovery enhancement reduces pain attentional bias in chronic pain patients. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics 82(5), 311-318. doi:10.1159/000348868
Harpin, S. B., Rossi, A., Kim, A. K., & Swanson, L. M. (2016). Behavioral impacts of a mindfulness pilot intervention for elementary school students. Education, 137, 149-156.
Honan, D. (2017). Neuroplasticity: You can teach an old brain new tricks. Retrieved from www.bigthink.com Huang, S., Li, R., Huang, F., & Tang, F. (2015). The potential for mindfulness-based interventions in workplace mental health promotion: Results of a randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 10, 1-15. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138089
Jacobs, I., Wollny, A., Sim, C., & Horsch, A. (2016). Mindfulness facets, trait emotional intelligence, emotional distress, and multiple health behaviors: A serial two‐mediator model. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 57, 207-214. doi:10.1111/sjop.12285
Kaldis, P., & Abramiuk, L. (2016). Preventing school bullying through the use of empathy: Let’s stop bullying without focusing on offender discipline and treatment. In T. Gavrielides (Ed.) Offenders No More: An Interdisciplinary Restorative Justice Dialogue, pp. 231-246. Hauppauge, NY, US: Nova Science Publishers.
Li, G., Yuan, H., & Zhang, W. (2016). The effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction for family caregivers: Systematic review. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 30, 292-299. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2015.08.014
Loucks, E. B., Britton, W. B., Howe, C. J., Eaton, C. B., & Buka, S. L. (2015). Positive associations of dispositional mindfulness with cardiovascular health: The New England Family Study. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 22, 540-550. doi:10.1007/s12529-014-9448-9
Moore, A., Gruber, T., Derose, J., & Malinowski, P. (2012). Regular, brief mindfulness meditation practice improves electrophysical markers of attention control. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6, 1-15. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00018
Remmers, C., Topolinski, S., & Koole, S. L. (2016). Why being mindful may have more benefits than you realize: Mindfulness improves both explicit and implicit mood regulation. Mindfulness 7, 829-827. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0520-1
Rogers, J. M., Ferrari, M., Mosely, K., Lang, C. P., & Brennan, L. (2017). Mindfulness-based interventions for adults who are overweight or obese: a meta-analysis of physical and psychological health outcomes. Obesity Reviews, 18, 51-67. doi:10.1111/obr.12461
Shawyer, F., Enticott, J. C., Özmen, M., Inder, B., & Meadows, G. N. (2016). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for recurrent major depression: A ‘best buy’ for health care? Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 50, 1001-1013. doi:10.1177/0004867416642847
Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., Dunn, T. J., Singh, N. N., & Griffiths, M. D. (2014). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for work-related wellbeing and job performance: A randomised controlled trial. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 12, 806-823. doi:10.1007/s11469-014-9513-2
Tamagawa, R., Speca, M., Pickering, B., Lawlor-Savage, L., & Carlson, L. E. (2015). Predictors and effects of class attendance and home practice of yoga and meditation among breast cancer survivors in a Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery (MBCR) program. Mindfulness 6, 1201-1210. doi:10.1007/s12671-014-0381-4
Tomfohr, L. M., Pung, M. A., Mills, P. J., & Edwards, K. (2015). Trait mindfulness is associated with blood pressure and interleukin-6: Exploring interactions among subscales of the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire to better understand relationships between mindfulness and health. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 38, 28-38. doi:10.1007/s10865-014-9575-4
Watier, N., & Dubois, M. (2016). The effects of a brief mindfulness exercise on executive attention and recognition memory. Mindfulness, 7, 745-753. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0514-z
Zernicke, K. A., Campbell, T. S., Speca, M., Ruff, K. M., Tamagawa, R., & Carlson, L. E. (2016). The eCALM trial: eTherapy for cancer applying mindfulness. Exploratory analyses of the associations between online mindfulness-based cancer recovery participation and changes in mood, stress symptoms, mindfulness, posttraumatic growth, and spirituality. Mindfulness, 7, 1071-1081. doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0545-5
Zhang, J., Zhou, Y., Feng, Z., Fan, Y., Zeng, G., & Wei, L. (2017). Randomized controlled trial of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) on posttraumatic growth of Chinese breast cancer survivors. Psychology, Health & Medicine, 22, 94-109. doi:10.1080/13548506.2016.1146405
Zhou, Z., Liu, Q., Niu, G., Sun, X., & Fan, C. (2017). Bullying victimization and depression in Chinese children: A moderated mediation model of resilience and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 137-142. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.07.040
Ackerman, C. (2017). The 23 Amazing Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Body and Brain. Positive Psychology Program. https://positivepsychologyprogram.com/benefits-of-mindfulness/
Mindful Staff. (2013). 10 Tips to Start Being Mindful Now. Mindful. https://www.mindful.org/10-tips-for-being-mindful-right-now/