People tend to underestimate the importance of being mindful, especially in today’s busy world. We’ve gotten used to hopping in the car each morning and reaching our destinations without remembering the trip there.
We have a tendency to get lost in thought and run on autopilot without taking the time to pay attention to what’s going on around us. While this state of being seems to be a natural part of our daily routines, running on autopilot can actually be a major trigger for issues like stress, anxiety, and depression.
If you find yourself running on autopilot mode and being distracted by wandering thoughts, you can step into the present moment by practicing mindfulness.
Not only does staying mindful allow you to experience life more fully, but it can also provide a variety of benefits to your overall health and well-being. Let’s dig deeper into this topic.
What Is Mindfulness?
Before we get into the significant benefits that mindfulness can have on your health, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is.
Simply put, mindfulness is the act of staying present. When you’re in a state of mindfulness, you’re completely immersed in what’s currently happening and the activities you’re currently engaged in.
Whether you’re driving, walking, or simply sitting in silence, practicing mindfulness keeps you in touch with your body and the space that you’re occupying at the present moment.
Dr. Amishi Jha, a mindfulness coach and associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami, compares the mind to an mp3 player that allows us to travel through time.
We’re able to put our minds on “fast forward” and think about upcoming obligations or events, or we can put our minds on “rewind” and dwell on the past.
Mindfulness involves leaving our minds on “play” and staying in the present moment. This practice requires you to fully accept and dedicate yourself to the present moment without judgment or emotional reactions. You simply accept the moment for what it is.
It’s important to note that while mindfulness is often associated with Eastern religious and spiritual beliefs, you don’t have to belong to any particular belief system to practice it and enjoy its health benefits.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness isn’t just some new age, feel-good concept. Staying present and attentive can have a positive impact on your overall health and well-being. Let’s explore some of the benefits that mindfulness provides.
It Builds Resilience
According to Dr. Jha, practicing mindfulness on a daily basis can make you more resilient and give you a greater capacity to bounce back from stress.
Because mindfulness requires you to remain in the present moment without judgment or emotional reactions, those who practice it can improve their ability to face stress head-on. Mindfulness allows you to be more compassionate with yourself and helps you to stop taking stress personally. It allows you to observe and accept stressful situations without ruminating on them.
Rather than focusing on the future outcome of the stress or dwelling on past decisions that may have led to said stress, those who stay mindful focus on finding solutions in the present moment.
Many people who have mastered the art of mindfulness can get through stressful situations with little to no disruption in their normal daily functioning.
It Can Combat Anxiety and Depression
For many people, anxiety is exacerbated by constant thoughts and worries about the future. Depression can be triggered or worsened by negative thoughts about the past. Since staying mindful requires being focused on the present moment, it gives you more control over these thoughts.
According to Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, practicing mindfulness makes it easier to differentiate a problem-solving thought from a worry that only contributes to mental stress.
It Improves Your Decision Making Skills
Practicing mindfulness on a regular basis can make you a better decision maker by making it easier to focus on logic and problem-solving rather than your emotions.
A study from the British Psychological Society found that being more mindful makes people less likely to make decisions based off of the sunk-cost bias, which is the habit of staying in negative situations due to the time and energy you’ve already invested or wasted.
This fallacy is what causes us to remain stuck in negative situations and bad habits instead of setting new goals that can improve our lives and make us happier.
If you’ve ever found yourself finishing off a pint of ice cream just because you’ve already eaten half of it, then it’s likely that you make decisions based on the sunk-cost bias.
Tips For Staying Mindful
Dr. Jha stresses the importance of mindfulness training. For many of us, it can be difficult to break the bad habit of getting lost in our thoughts. However, training your mind is a lot like training your physical body–you have to practice to see results.
There are quite a few ways to train yourself to be more mindfully aware. One of the most common suggestions is daily meditation. Meditating requires you to sit in silence and focus on your breathing and your five senses while letting the thoughts in your head come and go.
Physical exercise can also be a great way to practice mindfulness.
As you engage in any physical activity, you can focus on your breathing and the sensations around you. Yoga is a popular activity for those who are looking to practice mindfulness, but you can also engage in mindful walking, running or weight training.
No matter which form of exercise you choose, the key is to focus on your breathing and your five senses while letting your thoughts come and go.