Posted on January 07, 2020
The concept of mindfulness has moved from an obscure Buddhist teaching to a mainstream mantra to help combat our culture’s obsession with busyness and connectivity. There’s nothing wrong with this surge in popularity. The benefits of mindfulness are great, both in breadth and depth, for a practice that is so widely accessible.
The term "mindfulness" has been used to refer to a psychological state of awareness, practices that promote this awareness, a mode of processing information, and a character trait. For the purposes of this article, our therapy matching service thinks of mindfulness as a moment-to-moment awareness of one's experience without judgment. So, mindfulness is really a state and not so much a trait. And, while it might be brought about by certain practices or activities such as meditation, meditation and mindfulness are not the same things.
Achieving this state is one of the key steps to mindful living. It has led many mental health practitioners to see improvements in their patients’ self-control, objectivity, concentration and mental clarity, emotional intelligence, and the ability to relate to others and one's self with kindness, acceptance, and compassion. But is mindfulness as good as advertised? Yes. Mindfulness and health go hand in hand. So then, what are the benefits of mindfulness?
We throw the word “stress” around casually, but what does it really mean? It can be as simple as a feeling people get when they’re overloaded and struggling to cope with demands of everyday life, or it can be a constant trigger for the “fight-or-flight” mechanism telling us when and how to respond to danger. Over time, this can undermine your mental and physical health and become harmful.
Unfortunately, stress is a normal and unavoidable part of life. According to APA’s Stress in America survey in 2018, average stress levels are slightly higher than they were the year prior. On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is "a great deal of stress," and one is "little or no stress," American adults rated their stress level at a 4.9 in 2018, up from 4.8 in 2017. But worrisomely, adults report experiencing a stress level of 8 or higher on the 10-point scale.
This is where the benefits of mindfulness come into play. Did you know that one of the major benefits of mindfulness is a reduction in stress? As we said, it’s unfortunately pretty pervasive. It would be difficult to find anyone who would not express that stress was negatively impacting their day to day. It’s an ongoing issue that plagues many of us. But, those who use yoga meditation and other mindful exercises for anxiety can expect to see a sizable decrease in generalized stress and anxious feelings.
Boosts Memory And Focus
As much as we don’t like to think about it, normal aging leads to gradual changes in many skills associated with thinking and memory. For example, you might find it harder to focus your attention on the task at hand, and absorbing information might take you longer. What’s actually happening in your brain, is a slowdown of processing, which can lead to a bottleneck of information entering your short-term memory, reducing the amount of information that can be acquired and encoded into long-term memory.
However, you don’t need to be a senior citizen to be concerned about memory function and focus. If you’ve found it difficult to make it through meetings or helping the kids with afternoon homework, incorporating a mindful practice in your routine has the ability to help focus attention, reduce stress, and suppress distracting information.
For instance, implementing ten minutes of mindfulness meditation a day improves concentration and the ability to keep information active in the brain, a function known as “working memory.” The brain achieves this by becoming more efficient, literally requiring fewer brain resources to do these tasks. In fact, learning how to practice mindfulness at work can make a huge impact on your workday productivity.
Less Emotional Reactivity
Emotions are the foundation for the most important things in life. They have the power to let you be affected by art and culture, the ability to change relationships and transform how you perceive the world around you. However, negative emotions can greatly impact levels of mental well-being, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and drained.
An emotional response is a feeling that is felt and then either acted upon or not. For instance, your boyfriend tells you he loves you, and you feel loved. Your boss offers you a promotion, and you feel recognized. And then Your sister ignores your birthday, and you feel hurt and ignored.
Emotional reactivity, on the other hand, means you have an uncontrollable reaction to a stimulus. Instead of being able to consciously and carefully respond to an event, your emotions may take over with intensity. Emotional reactivity is known to take you out of your comfort zone and can even make you feel victimized by your own intense feelings. After all, they could spring up at any moment and leave you feeling out of control with how to deal with them.
Your emotional reactions can have varying degrees of negativity in the present based on your past experiences. This is because in highly stressful situations, or when you have underlying unprocessed emotions from the past, your reactivity to a given situation may feel volatile. When life is calmer and more balanced, and you are current with processing your emotions, your reactivity level is usually downgraded.
That said, emotional reactivity is a part of life, and you should only feel human if this resonates with you. Unfortunately, there is no avoiding painful feelings. But, how we react to those moments of discomfort doesn’t have to be disruptive. Mindfulness techniques can help you learn to disengage from emotionally upsetting situations, and instead, redirect focus on a cognitive task. It can help activate the brain region associated with more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations and lead to a faster recovery to a stable baseline after being negatively provoked.
If you’ve ever been in a relationship you know that the truly passionate stage is somewhat fleeting. However, intense passion soon makes way for deepening feelings like trust, support, and companionship. Sure, passion is still there, but it’s not the only thing after a number of years together. Maintaining increased closeness happens through opening up, being vulnerable, and sharing interests. But, over time, due to factors within and outside the relationship, satisfaction can increase or decrease.
Romantic relationships (except for the first few weeks) don’t live inside a vacuum. Instead, they are contained within and shaped by their external network of friends, family, colleagues, and society at large. Because like attracts like, couples' norms tend to approach a group average, whether it looks like greater intimacy or more detachment. Besides a bias toward monogamy, our current social forces specifically influence how relationships develop, which sometimes make it easier for couples to break up, especially if there is a lack of intimacy or connection. Many couples stay together in spite of a decrease in satisfaction. Conversely, under different circumstances, a couple’s immediate social setting could increase intimacy and connection.
One of the benefits of practicing mindfulness is that it prevents a lack of intimacy from forming. In several studies, researchers actually found that a person's ability to practice mindfulness can help improve relationship satisfaction. By acquiring a mindful state, you’re less likely to have inflated reactions to conflict and be more skilled in expressing focused thoughts and feelings.
Some methods of mindful living within a relationship include paying attention. That seems very silly and obvious, but when you get settled and comfortable in a relationship it can become all too easy to stop paying attention to your partner. Looking at your phone during a nice meal together, tuning out when your partner is describing something that happened at work, you don’t fully understand, or even having really opposite schedules. In extreme cases, it’s almost like you stop seeing them all together. Being mindful to pay attention to your partner can be a huge benefit.
Other ways to live mindfully within your relationship is acceptance and appreciation. While we can all strive to improve ourselves, it’s not healthy to try and change our partners or focus on how we wish they were different. Making the mindful decision to accept your partner all the time but especially when you’re frustrated, can lead to a happier relationship because your expectations will actually be met. And, of course, being mindful about showing your appreciation for your partner can go an awful long way.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of mindfulness is gaining self-confidence. Being mindful of your behavior and interactions with the world around will give you a renewed sense of self-awareness.
When you decide you’re done living life on autopilot and want to start living more mindfulness and intention, big things will happen to your self-esteem. When you become mindful of your thoughts and feelings, you’re better able to build awareness and can slowly start trusting what their brain and body really need.
If you currently have low self-confidence, listening to, or even trusting your thoughts might sound like a terrible idea. This is completely normal. Just know that it takes practice, but as you start to hear your thoughts without judgment and begin to recognize the ones that aren’t serving you well, you can start to trust in yourself more.
Practicing mindfulness is scientifically proven to calm down your mind, reduce stress, and slow down habitual thinking patterns-- those that often lead to anxiety, negative thoughts, or contribute to low self-esteem.
The benefits of mindfulness exercises are easy to obtain when you’re able to really incorporate them into your daily life. If you’re still struggling with living more mindfully, we can match you with a mental health therapist to guide your practice and offer accountability.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.