Mindfulness Techniques for Mental & Emotional Wellness
Using mindfulness techniques not only promote better mental and emotional wellness, but it can also help you feel better physically as well as maintain healthier, more positive relationships. Mindfulness is a habit of mind that means that you are paying attention on purpose to what is happening in the present, and you are doing so non-judgmentally.
How Can Mindfulness Help You?
Being mindful means, you are focused on what is happening right now, you are able to redirect your mind to the present when it wanders away, and you do so intentionally and purposefully.(Source)
Mindfulness is not about religious or spiritual beliefs, nor is it a complex set of practices you must adhere to strictly. Instead, mindfully focusing is simple. Once you have mastered the technique that works best for you, you can apply it to nearly all aspects of your life.
Being mindful focuses you on whatever is happening in your life at that moment. In today’s world of multi-tasking, instant gratification, and easily-accessed distractions, it can be hard to stay in the moment for very long. Mindfulness teaches you to notice when your mind wanders, and to return your thoughts to the present willfully.
When you first start to practice this, you may notice that your mind wanders. That is completely normal. The “practice” part comes when you purposefully bring your attention back. Don’t worry or judge yourself for the wander, just refocus and be present. That is being mindful.
As mindfulness techniques have become more understood and popular, researchers, educators, and wellness experts have come to realize the power that these practices can have on many aspects of your life.(Source)
Mindfulness is now being used to improve mental health, increase emotional awareness and wellness, promote better physical health, and to improve interpersonal relationships. Not only can being mindful help you to feel more focused and attentive, but it can actually change the way your brain processes, how you handle emotions, how your body responds to stress, and so much more.
Impact of Mindfulness on Mental Wellness
Improving your overall mental wellness should be a goal for everyone, regardless of your current mental health status. Recently, the National Institute of Mental Health or NIMH has begun investigating the impact of mindfulness on many different mental health conditions, with some surprising results (Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies, Shian-Ling Keng, et al.).
Because mindfulness is focused on being fully aware in the present, it teaches you greater control over your thoughts, which can be a positive thing for many people who suffer from mental health issues.
By practicing mindfulness, you are actually teaching your mind to pay more attention to what is currently happening in your life and less attention to your “mental monologue,” which can often include a running list of past regrets, mistakes, hurt feelings, and other distractions that keep you from living your life. Attention is something you can learn and become better at over time.
How Mindfulness Activities Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Those with anxiety and depression seem to notice the greatest benefit from practicing mindfulness techniques. Some researchers are even noting that certain types of mindfulness activities can be as effective as talk therapy for treating some patients with these types of disorders. The National Institute of Health’s database of published medical research now includes over 500 scientific studies on the use of meditation or mindfulness and the brain.
As an intervention for mental health issues like anxiety and depression, mindfulness is a natural fit. Depressive thoughts are generally focused on the past, while anxious thoughts are usually fixated on the future. By training your brain to focus solely on the present, you are able to attend to what is happening here and now.
Your ability to control your attention means those thoughts have no place in your mind. Researchers Goyal and colleagues have been able to confirm the benefits of meditation and other mindfulness activities on stress-related symptoms (Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-ban: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis)
How Mindfulness Based Practices Affect Your Brain
Brain scans of those who practice mindfulness techniques indicate more activity in the areas controlling attention regulation, and researchers also now new neural pathways being created in the brains of more mindful individuals.
Mindfulness, therefore, can change the way your brain operates, which can help with many forms of mental illness as well as improve your overall mental health, as Keshavan et al. Reveal in “Cognitive Training in Mental Disorders: Update and Future Directions.” (Source)
In addition to benefiting those diagnosed with mental health disorders, mindfulness can help us all to achieve a more focused attention that can have other, beneficial effects on the emotional, physical and social aspects of our lives, too.
Improving Emotional Wellness Through Mindfulness
Certainly, your emotional well-being is tied to your mental wellness, as well. But, changing your cognitive processes does not always change the emotions tied to those thoughts, but that is where mindfulness can also be a support.
Mindfulness makes you aware more fully of what is happening in the present, both externally and internally. Being mindful means paying purposeful attention and being intentional in your actions and thoughts. Because mindfulness is all about living in the present, it can help you move past some of the most negative emotions we often experience that are tied to the past.
Focusing on what is happening right now, you avoid getting trapped in the emotions you have about the past and the future. When you live in the present, you are better able to experience the joy of life, learn from your experiences, and learn how to deal more effectively with the psychological wounds you carry with you.
You neglect the possibilities of your present situation when you allow your emotions to rest squarely in the unknown future or the regret-filled past. Living outside of your present means you are likely to end up with feelings of sadness, emptiness, restlessness, guilt, or regret, due to your diminished ability to appreciate and acknowledge your present reality.
How Do You Release Emotional Pain?
Regaining control of your emotions means you can realize your full potential in life, and this is possible through mindfulness practices. By accepting and seizing each moment in your life, you become more fully aware of the perceptions, sensations, beliefs, and feelings that are guiding your life.
Mindfulness is not about ignoring all the thoughts that come into your head, but instead, it means you are able to acknowledge it, accept it for what it is, and continue to experience the world in spite of them.(Source)
Mindfulness shifts the center of your attention from your thoughts about something to the thing itself. You still have those thoughts, but you realize that you no longer have to respond or react to every thought that comes into your mind. Taking a nonjudgmental stance regarding these thoughts allows you to experience more of life without allowing your feelings about things to control your every action.(Source)
How Mindfulness Impacts Your Physical Wellness
Because the health of your body is tied directly to the health of your mind, and vice versa, changing the way you think can actually change how you feel. Because mindfulness impacts your emotional and mental health, your body enjoys many physical benefits from these types of practices. Researchers have been studying the impact of mindfulness and meditation on stress, sleep, heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation, and much more.
When you become more mindful, you at more attuned to your thoughts and emotions but you also become more aware of your physical body, picking up on the subtle hints your body gives that it is healthy or perhaps in need of attention.
Being more mindful can alert you more to small problems before they become large ones, and mindfulness techniques can teach you to pay closer attention to your body’s needs. A paper published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience confirms the mind-body connection, and how mindfulness can help you live healthier (Mindfulness Starts with the Body, Kerr, et al.).
1. Lower Stress And Have a Better Sleep
In addition, living more fully in the present has been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep, two important components to your physical well-being. Stress causes many problems or contributes to the worsening of others. When you are mindful and living in the present, you are able to focus on what is important now, which means less worry about tomorrow and yesterday.
Learning to practice mindfulness can also help you sleep better at night. Mindfulness lowers anxiety, which is one of the most significant reasons people lay awake at night. Those who are more mindful throughout their day also have lower stress levels, which translates into getting to sleep faster, as well, according to researchers at the University of Utah (Better Living Through Mindfulness). So, if you want to sleep easier, begin being more mindful both during the day and at bedtime.
2. Lower Your Blood Pressure Improve Your Heart Health
Being more mindful can also lower your blood pressure and regulate your stress hormones, both of which, over time, can improve your heart health. High blood pressure and high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to oxidative stress and the buildup of plaque in the arteries that feed your heart. Reducing these, along with other heart-healthy lifestyle and diet choices, can improve your heart’s health and longevity (Stress Reduction in the Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, Schneider, et al.)
3. Mindfulness Meditation Reduce Pain and Suffering
Those who practice mindfulness meditation techniques have been known to experience a reduction in pain as well as have fewer migraine headaches, according to some researchers. Meditation can reduce emotional stress, which is a cause of migraines, and these techniques make it possible for you to exercise control over the extent to which you experience sensations like pain.
4. Decrease Levels Of Inflammation And Disease
Your mind also exhibits some control over your immune system’s inflammatory response mechanism and becoming more mindful can actually help train your brain to slow or stop inflammation as a response to certain conditions. Trained attention and focus could be the ticket, with the right practices combined with other therapies can reduce chronic inflammation and the inflammatory response to many chronic diseases and conditions (Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation, Davidson, et al.).
5. Maintain Weight Loss with Mindfulness Techniques
More frequently, mindfulness training is being incorporated into weight loss plans and programs. This type of cognitive training can help you control impulses, increase your ability to follow an eating plan, and help you deal with the negative emotions you may have about food and eating. Mindfulness plays an important role in the regulatory areas of the brain, making it an effective addition to weight loss efforts.
Those who are prone to emotional eating, which often leads to unwanted weight gain, have seen great success with mindfulness techniques. Being mindful while preparing and eating food lowers emotional eating behaviors, which means it could be an effective therapy for those with eating disorders as well as anyone looking to maintain weight loss.
Those who use mindfulness tools can also improve their body image, which plays a critical role in weight loss and your emotions about food and eating. Being mindful can help you to focus on your present reality non-judgmentally, which can foster a healthier self-image and allow you to develop a healthier relationship with your body as well as food. (Source)
6. Prevent Dementia with Mindfulness Techniques
Practicing mindfulness techniques can also support your cognitive pathways to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. While dementia is controlled by many factors, including lifestyle and genetic factors, practicing mindfulness could be helpful in training the brain’s neural pathways to be more elastic, which could possibly lower the chance of developing dementia. (Source)
Researchers are just beginning to study this hypothesis, so we will know more in the coming few years (Mindfulness Training for People With Dementia and Their Caregivers, Berk, et al.).
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