Time to read: 7 minutes
Mindfulness is a practice that has been essential for helping manage mental health for thousands of years. You may have heard the word before but not known what mindfulness means. In a nutshell, it’s all about being conscious of what’s happening in the present moment and using tools like relaxation techniques, specific physical exercises, and even journaling to achieve a precise and healthy state of mind. The results of regularly incorporating mindfulness into one’s life are worth the effort and some benefits include:
– Reducing stress levels in the brain and body
– Boosting concentration, learning, and memory
– Reducing pain levels
– Reducing negative thoughts and feelings
– Increasing emotional regulation
– Creating an overall sense of well-being
Mindfulness involves focusing non-judgemental attention on the present moment. Bring yourself back to the here and now instead of ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, even if it is only for five minutes. The practice has been around for centuries, but only recently has it been praised for its super-powerful health benefits.
There are many ways of practicing mindfulness, such as:
– Meditation (self-directed or guided)
– Deep breathing
– Body scans
– Mindful activities
Most people find it easiest to start practicing mindfulness by taking time out of their day to focus on their breath and bodily sensations for a few minutes.
Mindfulness vs Mindlessness
What happens when you are not mindful? Without even knowing it, most of us spend our time on ‘autopilot’; we don’t always stop to think about what we are doing. We are rarely in the present moment. This is also called ‘mindlessness’. So, where mindlessness is being absent from the present moment, mindfulness is being attentive to the present moment. Mindfulness and mindlessness are opposites of one another.
Are Mindfulness and Meditation the Same Thing?
Although mindfulness and meditation have many similar qualities and benefits, they differ. It’s not a matter of debating mindfulness vs meditation but rather understanding the differences between the two. A great way to remember the difference is:
– Mindfulness is a quality we can have, and it can support and enrich meditation
– Meditation is a practice, and through practice, you can develop qualities such as mindfulness. Meditation is one activity of many that encourages mindfulness. Clear as mud, right?
Ultimately, mindfulness does not depend upon meditation, and mindfulness without meditation involves finding pockets of presence throughout our day. This could be done while drawing, eating, playing a sport or spending time with kids. Anything can be done mindfully if we focus. If you want to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, perhaps the answer is to start with mindfulness and see where it leads.
Why Mindfulness is Important
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Practicing mindfulness can help calm the nervous system and allows people to make better decisions. It can also reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels. It helps upregulate our pre-frontal cortex while down-regulating our limbic brain, helping to get us out of survival mode.
So, if you’ve been wondering: can mindfulness reduce stress and help anxiety, the answer is yes!
It has been shown that mindfulness can lead to improved working memory capacity and increased focus and attention. It may also be beneficial in reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.
Furthermore, mindfulness may also have some benefits for physical health – it has been linked to reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and high blood pressure.
The mindfulness-to-meaning theory was developed by Eric Garland and provides a framework for how mindfulness assists with emotion regulation. Mindfulness-to-Meaning theory notates that practicing regular mindfulness creates a positive feedback loop by developing the ability for people to reappraise stressful situations by using mindfulness and therefore find meaning in the face of adversity.
Think back to some of our other Neuroscience articles – when our prefrontal cortex is online and in charge, we are feeling confident and in control. However, when our Limbic brain takes over, we are active impulsively from our fight-or-flight instincts. Mindfulness allows us to upregulate our PFC and downregulate our Limbic brain.
Mindfulness for Kids
Mindfulness for children is a great way to nurture kids’ mental health as they develop. Children of all ages can benefit from mindfulness, and all it takes is teaching them in age-appropriate ways how to pay attention to the present moment with an accepting and compassionate attitude. The benefit of kids practicing Mindfulness is so apparent that Schools have even started to implement it in the school day.
An excellent technique for children is to teach them mindfulness like a frog! The ‘Sitting Still Like a Frog’ practice has been praised by people worldwide. This activity involves introducing the basics of mindfulness in an age-appropriate manner. Eline Snel created it, and an easy-to-follow video can be found here
Mindfulness for Teens
The teenage years can be a turbulent rollercoaster of emotions, and mindfulness may be the answer to helping teens ride that rollercoaster in a much more compassionate way. Research has shown that when teens incorporate mindfulness into their everyday life, it lowers rates of anxiety and depression and leads to better sleep, stronger relationships, and increased self-awareness.
Some techniques for introducing mindfulness to teens can be through:
– Guided meditations from apps on their phone
– Breathing practices
– Colouring-in books
– Mindful walking
Mindfulness for Students
Being a student can be stressful, whether at university for an undergraduate degree, at school, or in postgraduate studies. It’s a pressured season whereby stress bubbles up frequently. This is why mindfulness is important for students. Developing mindfulness during your studies can help reduce the adverse effects of stress and increase your ability to stay engaged in class and stay on track academically.
Great techniques for mindfulness for students can involve:
– Setting reminders on your phone during study sessions to take a few deep breaths and be present at the moment
– Take a mindful walk before or after studying
– Use the time before class to sit still, pay attention to your body and environment, and witness your feelings without judgment.
Can Mindfulness Be Harmful?
Mindfulness is an incredible mental resource to strengthen and grow, but you may be wondering where mindfulness falls short. It’s important to acknowledge that bringing our attention to our negative feelings can be dangerous for many people.
Research suggests that mindfulness for people who have experienced past trauma can have adverse effects. It can also be stressful for people with ADHD or anxiety if they simply try to sit with their thoughts and do nothing else. These are examples of specific cases when mindfulness doesn’t work in its purest form. This is not to say that mindfulness is a bad idea for these people but instead suggests that nothing is one-size-fits-all. Suppose you have a mental health condition as above or a history of trauma, it’s best to seek the guidance of a mental health professional if you’d like to incorporate more mindfulness into your routine. This way it can be done safely, rather than exacerbate symptoms. Other alternative options include trying active mindfulness when completing an activity, rather than sitting and focusing on the body.
Which Mindfulness App is Best?
There are countless apps that you can use to assist in strengthening your mindfulness skills. The best app is one that you will use regularly – so shop around a get a feel for what you like. Here is an overview of our app that we provide:
The Driven Resilience App
– This app was created by neuroscientists and incorporates education, techniques, support, and activity to assist your mental health. Many of the activities and processes used involve strengthening your mindfulness ability.
– It Includes a tailored program that not only walks you through the activities (including mindfulness), but also teaches you why these things work and how they are helping your body and mind.
– You also have access to on-demand activities that may not be scheduled for you, but you may need in the moment to help guide you through a stressful situation, for example
– Sign up to our newsletter and get a discount!
The importance of being patient when starting with mindfulness
Practicing self-compassion and patience when starting with mindfulness is critical for progress. It can be tempting to push hard and expect immediate results, but this is likely to lead to disappointment and feelings of frustration. Mindfulness isn’t something you can learn overnight, so it’s essential to take the time to develop your practice and trust in the process. Start small and focus on self-love and self-care instead of holding yourself to unrealistic expectations. If you’re kinder and more forgiving towards yourself, it’ll be much easier and more enjoyable as you journey into mindfulness. Progress, not perfection.
Overall, mindfulness is an incredible asset to your mental health toolkit. Practicing mindfulness daily can improve the overall quality of your life by increasing your well-being and decreasing your stress. Give mindfulness a try today!