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Raise your hand if you feel like you are living your life on autopilot. If you feel caught up in the past or future plans? If you react to present challenges in your life with judgment?
I can raise my hand too. But I recently started practicing mindfulness, and I try to live more mindfully these days.
You know there are many buzzwords making the rounds these days, and it may seem like mindfulness is just one of them. However, there is proven research that illustrates just how beneficial practicing being mindful can be. And I’ve experienced the benefits of mindfulness firsthand.
But what is mindfulness, and what exactly are these benefits you stand to gain by living in a mindful state? I’ve got all the information you need to know right here so you can start being mindful ASAP.
What Is Mindfulness?
Professor emeritus and author Jon Kabat-Zinn made the Western world aware of mindfulness, even though the practice, originating from Buddhist and ancient eastern philosophy, dates back 2,500 years.
Mindfulness is a psychological state of moment-to-moment awareness.
When you practice mindfulness, you are purposely aware of the present moment, you pay attention to your feelings, your thoughts, your senses, and your environment, and you accept the moment without judgment.
You may wonder why you should be mindful when you (think you are) mindful every day. If you are honest with yourself and reflect on your day or even just the past few hours, can you say you were fully engaged with what you were doing at every moment?
We live in a busy world, and we live busy lives. As we rush to get through our day, we aren’t connected with the present moment – we merely go from one task to another, while sometimes also multitasking (or trying to!) at the same time.
Essentially, you miss out on what you are doing and how you are feeling.
Sure, making dinner should probably not be a mindful activity, but what if it was? What if you practice mindfulness while sautéing the onions, and practice gratitude while you are at it?
At the moment, as you prepare dinner for your family, you work on autopilot, and your mind runs away with you. Are you engrossed in thinking about that upcoming test your son needs to write? Are you immersed in thinking about the meeting with your boss, wondering if your job is safe? Or are you hung up on the fight you had with your partner?
Honestly? When you engage in obsessive thoughts, about the past or future, you are worrying, and this increases your stress levels. You are distracted from what you are doing at the moment and looking at events (past or future) with judgment.
Choose to be mindfully aware: live in the present moment, don’t be overwhelmed or reactive to thoughts, feelings, and actions, and relate to all experiences in a receptive way, accepting what it is.
How to Practice Mindfulness in Your Daily Life?
Luckily, mindfulness is not something you need to buy or find. Everyone has the ability to be mindful; you simply need to access it and practice.
So how can you practice mindfulness as you go about your day?
You can practice being mindful by:
11 Mental and Physical Benefits of Mindfulness
A 2021 review of more than 400 studies on mindfulness found that the mental health practice of being mindful has psychological and physical benefits to a person’s well-being.
Here are the health and mental benefits of mindfulness you can experience when you start being more aware:
1. Cognitive Health
As you age, you lose some of your short-term memory and cognitive flexibility. By being more mindful every day, you can slow your mental decline.
A 2016 study states that patients with Alzheimer’s disease were grouped into four groups and each assigned relaxation training, cognitive stimulation therapy, mindfulness meditation, or no treatment. The patients completed cognitive tests over a period of 2 years, and the study concluded the group that was assigned mindfulness meditation had the best cognitive improvement scores, thus proving that mindfulness helps mitigate cognitive decline.
2. Improve Heart Health
Heart disease kills 1 in 4 people in the United States every year. Being more mindful helps decrease symptoms and lowers the risks of heart disease.
Various studies show that mindfulness can even help if you suffer from hypertension, or high blood pressure. Being mindful helps you with attention control, regulating your emotions, and being more aware of your habits – both the healthy and unhealthy ones.
A 2013 study found that people diagnosed with pre-hypertension experienced significantly reduced blood pressure levels when their drug treatment was augmented with mindfulness practice.
A 2019 study found that patients had lower blood pressure scores at the week 8 follow-up after they practiced mindful meditation and received mindfulness training for 2 hours per week. The patients were also less judgmental and depressed, and more accepting, which all resulted in lowered blood pressure means.
3. Reduce Stress, Anxiety, and Depression
Do you deal with anxiety, stress, or depression? Looking for a natural treatment or something to boost the effects of your medication? Mindfulness can help.
It’s estimated that more than 30% of Americans experience an anxiety disorder in their life. Suffering from stress causes various health problems, and it increases your risks of anxiety and depression.
There are a variety of mindfulness practices that have been developed to treat symptoms of stress.
One such approach is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR is a program that lasts 8 weeks, and during this time, mindfulness exercises like body awareness, mindful eating, and yoga are incorporated to teach the participants to give their full attention to what they do, moment by moment.
Studies such as one conducted in 2016 illustrate that mindfulness helps reduce stress, anxiety, and negative emotions.
Regarding depression, studies have found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines cognitive behavioral therapy and MBSR, can help those suffering from depression, who are at risk of sliding into a depressive relapse, recognize what’s happening and engage with their reactions in a compassionate way.
The study found that MBCT helps prevent the recurrence of depression just as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medication.
4. Interpersonal Relationships
If you could improve your interpersonal relationships with your partner, kids, family, friends, and colleagues, would you? And what if the key to improved relationships was as simple as being more aware every day?
Practicing mindfulness every day can also have a positive effect on your interpersonal relationships. One study concluded that mindful people are more accepting of their partners, and thus, they are more satisfied with their relationships.
When you are mindful, you aren’t focusing on your partner’s imperfections; rather, you can accept that your partner is human (just like you) and can make mistakes. This acceptance allows you to react more positively, thus helping you build stronger relationships.
Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement (MBRE) is a treatment approach that uses various mindfulness practices like loving-kindness meditation, being more mindful overall, and mindful touching.
MBRE has been proven to help patients be more accepting of their partner, satisfied with their relationships, and empathic. The treatment also improves a couple’s level of intimacy.
5. Physical Health and the Ability to Deal with Illness Better
If you’ve ever been sick in your life, or taken care of someone with a chronic illness, then you know how challenging it can be to deal with the symptoms of the disease.
If you are suffering from a health condition, like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, or fibromyalgia, practicing mindfulness can help relieve your physical symptoms. This 2012 study found that mindfulness even benefits those who deal with chronic pain because it helps to lower a person’s stress levels and makes you feel better overall.
In fact, the eCALM trial, which is a therapy program for patients suffering from cancer, states that engaging in mindful practices helps patients better deal with their illness.
By reducing stress symptoms, relieving fatigue, facilitating post-traumatic growth, and improving a person’s ability to non-react to experience, patients were able to handle their cancer and its symptoms better.
Having a working immune system is important as it helps protect you from developing certain diseases and harmful microbes like viruses, bacteria, and parasites. And the good news is that mindfulness can boost your immunity.
Various studies found that practicing mindfulness meditation increases your disease-fighting cells. For example, research states that the C-reactive protein levels (which is an inflammation marker, where the higher the count, the higher the inflammation) in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis reduced when they participated in an MBSR course.
We are all getting older. In fact, you are getting older as you read this article – but keep reading as you can slow the aging process!
As we age, our cells age too. Our cells continuously divide during our lifespan, and with stress, these cells divide at an even faster rate, meaning we age faster. Telomeres are proteins that protect your chromosomes from aging, so longer telomeres means that the cells age slower.
An experimental study found that breast cancer survivors who engaged with MBSR reduced cell aging as the telomeres lengthened.
8. Emotional Reactivity
Mindfulness can help decrease emotional reactivity. How? Well, when you meet experiences – especially challenging ones – with more awareness and an open, non-judgmental attitude, you learn to react with less emotional reactivity.
When you are emotionally reactive, you act instinctively or automatically. This reaction is based on how you’ve been conditioned. There’s no thought or planning, leading you to overreact and potentially even act contrary to how you’d react if you’d just stopped, thought, and then chosen what to do. You may even come to regret your actions.
Imagine being hungry while you go grocery shopping. Do you just load in everything that looks yummy – and is highly unhealthy? (Yeah, me too.) But if you reacted with less emotional reactivity – by waiting to go grocery shopping after you’ve had a healthy snack – you wouldn’t have shopped impulsively.
The benefits of mindfulness and reduced emotional reactivity is that you act more holistically, and you have a better concept of the consequences of your actions, so you are aware, you think, and then you act.
9. Weight Loss
Obesity is a serious issue as it increases your chances of developing diabetes, getting a stroke, or suffering from heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, gout, asthma, and sleep apnea.
Natural ways to lose weight are much more preferable than chemical and unhealthy ones, and mindfulness is one of these natural solutions.
Mindful eating is the practice of being fully attentive to food and eating habits. It includes being aware when buying, preparing, serving, and consuming food.
People who practice mindful eating can lose weight when they are aware whether they are actually hungry versus when their body is “craving” something because of how they feel.
As such, being mindful helps you identify eating triggers, prevent binge-eating, and be more mindful of your relationship with food.
If you are like me and struggle with sleep, then you aren’t alone. Around 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders, and not getting enough sleep leads to an increase in injuries, mental illness, chronic disease, and more.
Being mindful assists you to create a mental space that helps you get more shut-eye. If you can “be with what is” – that is, awareness of this current moment and accept it with no judgment – you can calm your mind and tame anxious thoughts (aka quiet your mind), all of which promotes a good night’s sleep.
How often do you forget simple things like where you placed your reading glasses (when they are on top of your head!) or your keys? If you suffer from these moments of forgetfulness, you should definitely start practicing mindfulness because it can boost your memory.
A study published in Brain Imaging Behavior in 2019 had participants take a creative writing course or participate in mindfulness training. The participants had to do memory tests after 4 weeks, and the results for those who trained in mindfulness practices showed that mindfulness improves working memory.
The study found that there was a decrease in proactive interferences, which is when older memories prevent you from accessing new memories. There were also volume changes in the hippocampus (associated with memory) of the mindfulness participants.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Mindfulness
There are so many benefits of mindfulness. Why are you still waiting to give it a try? Why not act on practicing being mindful, so you too can reap all of these wonderful pros like improved heart and mental health, less stress and anxiety, and better sleep?
To start practicing mindfulness, take it one step at a time. Choose how you’d like to be more mindful every day, and then focus on that until mindfulness has become a habit. Then see how else you can incorporate mindfulness in your daily life, practice, and then take it a step further.
Looking for an easy way to become more mindful in your life? Why don’t you start coloring with these printable mindfulness coloring pages to help you be more present?
Finally, if you want a simple way to reduce your stress and anxiety, then try writing these 35 mindfulness journaling prompts to live more in the present moment.