In recent years, the practice of ‘mindfulness’ has become more popular, with people using it as a tool to manage stress and anxiety in their work and home life. But what is it and how does mindfulness help to reduce stress? In this article we will take a closer look at how the act of being fully present and focused on the here and now can help you stay calm under pressure and cope more effectively with whatever life throws at you.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a form of meditation which involves being aware and taking notice of what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and surroundings. Even though mindfulness is rooted in Buddhism, it doesn’t have to be spiritual, and anyone can practice it, regardless of faith and belief.
What is the purpose of mindfulness?
Through mindfulness, you pay attention to the present moment. In time, you will develop the ability to avoid becoming overwhelmed, judgemental, or reactive when put under pressure or faced with a stressful situation.
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, author and pioneer of modern mindfulness, mindfulness helps you:
What does stress do to the body and mind
Stress can be detrimental to both your physical and emotional wellbeing, leading to multiple health problems. Stress hormones can affect your health and lead to:
- Sleep problems
- Panic attacks
- Muscle aches and headaches
- High blood pressure
- Indigestion and heartburn
- Depression, low mood, and anxiety
How mindfulness reduces stress
The practice of mindfulness may be able to reduce stress. Here are some ways in which it can help:
The practice of mindfulness may reduce amygdala activity
The amygdala is the part of your brain which plays a key role in how we respond to stressful or frightening situations. Mindfulness practice can help to reduce amygdala stress response activity, meaning you respond to stress triggers in a more controlled manner.
The practice of mindfulness helps you reflect before reacting
If you would normally react negatively to an unexpected or stressful situation, mindfulness can teach you to pause before you react, giving your brain a chance to process what is happening and come up with an effective solution.
The practice of mindfulness helps you manage pain
With mindfulness, you are more aware of your feelings and therefore it encourages acceptance of the pain which calms the mind and helps the body relax.
The practice of mindfulness may increase empathy
As your own emotional intelligence increases, so does your awareness of the emotions of others. You become more compassionate and empathetic, enabling you to deal with conflict or heightened emotions in a calm manner.
The practice of mindfulness may improve focus
Because mindfulness teaches you how to be completely in the moment and fully aware of your surroundings, you become more focused, cutting out outside noise and distractions, leaving you able to concentrate for longer periods at a time.
Further support on how to practise mindfulness
If you want to learn more about the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how to practise it, the NHS has a wealth of information, including a helpful YouTube video which teaches you mindful breathing techniques for stress management. The charity Mind can help you find mindfulness and meditation groups and courses in your local area. You may also find our article Health benefits of yoga and meditation useful.
Disclaimer: The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only and does not substitute the medical advice from a healthcare professional.