The Mental Health Benefits of Mindfulness and Five Ways to Practice

“Mindfulness is a pause – the space between stimulus and response: that’s where choice lies.” – Tara Brach

Do you ever feel like your mind is racing a mile a minute? Do you find yourself going through the motions of your day without really being present in the moment? 

Maybe you find yourself worrying about the future or dwelling on the past?

If so, you’re not alone. We are all lost in thought and on “autopilot” sometimes.

The bad news is, when we aren’t actively focused or self-aware, the mind will wander off and get distracted by some unhelpful and downright unsavory thoughts. Fortunately there is a powerful, age-old tool that can help: mindfulness.

At its core, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment with a sense of curiosity and open-mindedness. It’s about being fully present and aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, without judgement. While it may sound simple, it isn’t necessarily easy, but the benefits of mindfulness are worth the labor. 

Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can have numerous benefits for mental health. For example, it can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve sleep quality, and enhance overall well-being.

Mental health benefits of mindfulness

1. Reduce stress and anxiety

When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, it can be easy to get caught up in your thoughts and worries. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety by helping individuals to focus on the present moment rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. When you practice mindfulness, you learn to observe your thoughts without getting swept away by them. This can help reduce the intensity of your emotions and help you return to a more calm and centered state.

2. Boost mood and regulate emotion

When you’re fully present and engaged in the moment, it’s easier to find joy and happiness in simple experiences. Mindfulness can help you appreciate the little things in life and feel more content and fulfilled. A study by Khoury et al. (2015) found that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) were effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. The study also suggested that MBIs can improve emotional regulation and increase positive affect. In other words, mindfulness can improve mood by helping individuals identify and regulate their emotions.

3. Improve relationships

When you’re more present and aware in your interactions with others, you may find that your relationships improve. Mindfulness can help you listen more attentively, communicate more effectively, and be more empathetic and compassionate. Instead of getting caught up in your own thoughts and reactions, you’re able to respond in a more thoughtful and compassionate way. Plus, being mindful can help you pick up on nonverbal cues and emotions, which can lead to deeper connections and understanding with those around you.

4. Enhance overall well-being

Finally, practicing mindfulness can help improve your overall sense of well-being. By reducing stress, boosting mood, increasing self-awareness, and improving relationships, mindfulness can help you become healthier, feel greater contentment, and be more fulfilled in many aspects of your life.

Overall, mindfulness is an effective tool for improving mental health and well-being, but that doesn’t make it easy or natural to apply. Let’s talk about how to bring some mindfulness into your day-to-day activities. And don’t worry, there isn’t a right or wrong way to practice mindfulness, so consider whatever works best for you and your lifestyle.

Ways to practice mindfulness

1. Start your day with a mindful routine

Begin your day with a mindful routine that sets the tone for the rest of the day. This could include a brief meditation, showering, yoga, brushing your teeth, or simply taking a few deep breaths. 

Let’s consider mindful teeth brushing for an example. Next time you’re brushing those pearly whites, try to really focus on the sensation of the bristles on your teeth, the taste of the toothpaste on the tongue, and the sound of brushing. It may seem silly, but if you’re going to brush your teeth anyway, try to be fully present in the moment, instead of getting lost in the wandering mind. This can become a mindful activity to practice. 

2. Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating involves paying attention to your food, savoring the flavors, and being present in the moment. Take a few moments to really look at your food, notice the colors and textures. Take a deep breath and smell the aromas. And when you take that first bite, really taste it! Take your time, savor each bite, and chew slowly. You may be surprised at how much more enjoyable your meal can be when you’re fully present in the moment.

3. Take mindful breaks

Take breaks throughout the day to pause, breathe deeply, and check in with yourself. This can help you reset and be more conscious throughout the day. Take a walk outside, stretch, or simply close your eyes and breathe. Whenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed, take a few deep breaths and focus on your breath as it enters and leaves your body. This can help calm your mind and reduce tension. 

4. Mindful listening

Be present in your interactions. Don’t multitask or do other things when you are talking to someone. Instead give them your full attention and listen actively. This can help you build deeper connections with others and be more present in your interactions.

5. Return to your senses

Take notice of your surroundings throughout the day. Notice the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around you. This could be the colors of the leaves on the trees, the sound of the birds chirping, or the feeling of the sun on your skin. Coming back to your senses and being present in your surroundings can help you feel more grounded and connected to the world around you. 

So, if you’re looking for a powerful tool to improve your mental health, give mindfulness a try. Whether you start with a guided meditation or simply take a few deep breaths and focus on the present moment, you may be surprised at just how much a mindfulness practice can support mental health.

Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash