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Mindfulness: The Health and Stress Relief Benefits

A Powerful Tool for Positive Change

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Updated January 29, 2011

Mindfulness: The Health and Stress Relief Benefits

Mindfulness has many stress relief benefits, and offers a way to savor your day.

Photo from iStockPhoto.com

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment--non-judgmentally and completely--rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future. It generally involves a heightened awareness of sensory stimuli (really noticing your breathing, feeling the sensations of your body, etc.) and being "in the now." While mindfulness has origins in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism, there is no necessary religious component to mindfulness -- anyone, with any belief system, can enjoy the benefits of mindfulness.

How Is Mindfulness Attained?

Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation, but one can also practice mindfulness through daily living. Simply focusing on the present moment and quieting your inner dialogue can help you attain mindfulness.

What Are The Benefits of Mindfulness?

As Eastern practices gain more popularity in the West, mindfulness has been paired with cognitive therapy. Early research shows some very promising results. Practicing mindfulness, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) have been found to be helpful with the following:
  • Anxiety Disorders, Including Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
    Patients with GAD may experience significant reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms after a mindfulness-based intervention.

  • Depression
    Patients who experienced residual depressive symptoms following a depressive episode experienced a decrease in symptoms and ruminations following a mindfulness-based intervention, with further gains a month later.

  • Relationship Issues
    One study found that people who exhibited greater mindfulness as a personality trait tended to enjoy greater satisfaction in relationships, and deal with relationship stress more constructively. Another study found that those who employ mindfulness have a lower stress response during conflict, while the state of mindfulness was associated with better communication during conflicts. Both studies link mindfulness with relationship wellbeing.

  • Sleep Problems
    Cancer patients found a reduction in sleep disturbance and in increase in sleep quality following an 8-week MBSR program.

  • Eating Disorders
    After completing an 8-week mindfulness-based treatment program, women with bulimia nervosa reported significant improvements in emotions and behaviors, experiencing greater self-awareness, acceptance and compassion, among other benefits.

  • Stress Management
    Studies have found mindfulness to be helpful with daily stresses as well as the more serious stresses experienced by those with a chronic or life-threatening illness.
The practice of mindfulness has been shown to have lasting positive effects with benefits that increase with practice.

How Can Mindfulness Be Used To Relieve Stress?

Studies show that mindfulness can be helpful in stopping ruminations over things that cause stress; it helps people keep from dwelling on negative thoughts. Mindfulness can also be used to decrease anxiety over the future. It can provide a break from stressful thoughts and allow you to take a mental break and gain perspective, among other things.

As mentioned earlier, mindfulness can be achieved most simply through meditation. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation has benefits for your physical as well as your mental health. (See this article for more information on these benefits and different meditation techniques.)

For those who tend to get "antsy" during meditation (don’t worry, you’re not alone), there are other ways to ease into the practice of mindfulness. Gardening, listening to music and even cleaning house can become a practice in mindfulness if you take the right approach: focus on the present, and quiet that voice inside -- the one that offers the running commentary on what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you will be doing.

  • Practicing Mindfulness Exercises

    Sources:

    Barnes S, Brown KW, Krusemark E, Campbell WK, Rogge RD. The Role of Mindfulness in Romantic Relationship Satisfaction and Responses to Relationship Stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, October 2007.

    Carlson LE, Garland SN. Impact of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Sleep, Mood, Stress and Fatigue Symptoms in Cancer Outpatients. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 2005.

    Evans S, Ferrando S, Findler M, Stowell C, Smart C, Haglin D. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, July 2007.

    Kingston T, Dooley B, Bates A, Lawlor E, Malone K. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Residual Depressive Symptoms. Psychology and Psychotherapy, June 2007.

    Proulx K. Experiences of Women with Bulimia Nervosa in a Mindfulness-Based Eating Disorder Treatment Group. Eating Disorders, January-February 2008.

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