The Connection Between Mindfulness & Mental WellnessSep 05, 2020
Mindfulness is, simply put, being aware and present. Present in the moment you are experiencing, present in the now. Mental health issues can be a difficult feedback loop, and a lot of us struggle to get out of it. Being mindful can help us stop the spiraling in it’s tracks. Mindfulness meditation incorporates a vast array of techniques such as mindful breathing, body scan, visualizations, and various other methods. The basic principle of this type of meditation is always staying aware and present in the moment. The goal of this practice is not to analyze and dissect your thoughts, the goal is to accept them as they come along and then gently let them go, without any judgment. It is awareness, acceptance, and living in the now.
And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Staying present can be hard, but as you continuously meditate it almost becomes second nature, a reflex, and a spontaneous reaction to stressful situations. Our thoughts are automatic, and you never know what surfaces as you give yourself the permission to be still and mindful. And that is okay. Once you master the action of staying mindful it becomes much easier to tackle your problems, simply because you can truly focus, instead of dealing with an overly active brain and racing thoughts that only make the matters worse.
Regular mindfulness meditation practice can help you significantly reduce the amount of stress your experience in your daily life, not because it objectively changes your situation, but rather because it helps you internalize and interpret stressful situations in a different, calmer, and usually a bit more productive manner. The point is not to completely shut those thoughts down, it is to learn how to choose which ones you listen to, and which ones are just chatter. Mindfulness meditation is a controlled environment in which you can learn how to stay more in control and emotionally stable in your daily life, where the real challenges happen.
Mental illnesses and disordered thinking, in general, are not only a psychological issue, they can also affect us on a physiological level. Mindfulness has been also proven to help improve certain illnesses, conditions, syndromes, including physical symptoms of mental illnesses. It has the potential to improve markers associated with a number of diseases. Meditation can lower blood sugar, improve IBS, hypertension, fibromyalgia, cardiovascular disease, etc. (Carlson, 2012). It truly is a powerful tool on so many levels and I firmly believe everyone should include it in their toolbox.
Longterm mindfulness meditation, after all, can even structurally change your brain. Researchers have used MRI to observe changes and have discovered that mindfulness meditation can and has changed certain brain regions of participants, including a region that is responsible for the regulation of emotions (Laneri, 2016).
Meditation can provide you some insight into your psyche and helps you get in touch with your feelings and emotions. Being in touch with everything you feel is the first step to healing. It helps you bridge the gap between reacting and responding to external stimuli. It helps you stay in control or your emotions.
Mindfulness or meditation in general isn’t always easy but it is always simple. It’s incredibly beginner friendly, because the basics are easy to comprehend and straightforward. It is also very inexpensive or even free. An added bonus is that it is incredibly accessible. Literally anyone can do it. Meditation as such doesn’t care about your gender, age, body type, etc. It doesn’t judge and it doesn’t have any prejudices.
A very recent study has revealed that,
“Mindfulness meditation uniformly and independently improved the participants overall mental health. The data supports a feasible option for minimizing stress and maintaining mental well-being in a demanding professional program.“ And that “for all scales the intervention was associated with enhanced mindfulness and mental well-being and decreased perceived stress. Further analysis indicated that controlling for various health promoting lifestyle behaviors preserves the positive impact of mindfulness meditation as demonstrated.” (Zollars, 2019).
In summary - this study has shown that the participants that were in an incredibly stressful environment benefited from mindfulness meditation. It improved their well-being and decreased stress.
Mindfulness meditation works even in smaller doses, meaning you don’t have to wait for months and months, and sit through hours upon hours of meditation before you see any noticeable results. The longer and more consistently you do it, the more effective it is. But even a single session can help you decompress and take care of your well-being.
Meditation is not a talent or a natural disposition, it is a practice. You aren’t born with this skill, you acquire it. And just like with everything else in life - practice makes perfect. You are allowed to feel frustrated and it takes time to fully develop this skill. Start slowly and gradually build up your patience and your ability to sit still, focused on your breath, and any thoughts that surface. I promise that your perseverance will more than likely pay off. And like I said earlier, you will probably feel a bit of a difference even after a single mindfulness meditation session. It’s similar to sports in a way. You can’t go from living a completely sedentary life to running a marathon in a day. The same goes for meditation. You won’t be able to master it in a day but everything begins with the first step. Be it running a marathon or mastering mindfulness.
Of course, meditation is by no means a magic bullet or a cure, and it won’t solve all of your problems. What it is, is a wonderful and accessible tool that can help almost anyone. Especially when you combine it with other methods of taking care of yourself and your mental health such as therapy, medication, counseling, exercise and so on. Even if your struggles seem minor, everyone could probably use a bit more awareness and even relaxation in their lives and it won’t hurt to give it a try.
Zollars, Irene, et al. “Effects of Mindfulness Meditation on Mindfulness, Mental Well-Being, and Perceived Stress.” Currents in Pharmacy Teaching & Learning, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2019, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31685171.
Laneri, Davide, et al. “Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain's White Matter Microstructure and Its Aging.” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Frontiers Media S.A., 14 Jan. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4712309/#B17.
Carlson, Linda E. “Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Physical Conditions: a Narrative Review Evaluating Levels of Evidence.” ISRN Psychiatry, International Scholarly Research Network, 14 Nov. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3671698/.