6 Benefits of Mindful Living ~ Staying happy and healthy means staying present.
For some people, the phrase “mindful living” brings to mind those individuals who are always “zen,” the sort of people who are always cool, calm and collected regardless of the situation. For others, “mindful living” makes them scoff and think of hippies, hipsters and the woman down the street who has read a few too many self-help books. Whether the people the phrase “mindful living” brings to mind evoke envy or contempt, most people have a mental picture of what “mindful living” looks like. For the majority of people, that picture can be summed up as “not my life.” Mindful living, however, is not just for a specific type of person. Anyone can learn to live mindfully.
Living mindfully has been shown to have a number of benefits. From physical effects to improvements in emotional issues, mindful living has a lot to offer people of every demographic. Learning to live mindfully can be tricky, but there are many opportunities to practice being mindful each day. Once you have begun to practice being mindful, you can enjoy these six benefits of mindful living among other advantages.
Better Your Brain
Practicing mindful living can actually help you better your brain. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve both memory and cognition. Mindfulness mediation has also been shown to increase a person’s attention span. According to a study in “Consciousness and Cognition Journal,” four days of meditation training can reduce fatigue and anxiety while simultaneously “enhance[ing] the [person’s] ability to sustain attention.”
Living mindfully has also been shown to physically alter the brain in ways that allow people to increase their intelligence and improve their decision making abilities. A 2012 UCLA study published in “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience” found that those who live mindfully and meditate show more folding, or gyrification, in the brain’s cortex. These extra folds allow people to process information faster and help them avoid obsessing over past events. Similar studies have found that students who trained in mindfulness performed better on verbal reasoning tests and improved their memories.
Decrease Anxiety and Depression
In addition to improving already healthy aspects of your mind, mindful living has been shown to help stave off mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. A 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital study showed that mindfulness based stress reduction helped significantly reduce anxiety for those with generalized anxiety disorder. For those who are generally anxious but do not have an official medical diagnosis, mindful living can help people avoid catastrophizing, or obsessively thinking about the worst possible outcome of any situation. Mindfulness can also help people avoid overthinking situations and so cut down on the anxiety related to overthinking.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been shown to help patients with depression. The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as “an eight-week, group-based program that incorporates mindfulness exercises…such as eating or doing household chores, with full attention to what one is doing, moment by moment.” Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been shown to help prevent a “relapse” into depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. In addition, mindfulness has been shown to decrease people’s feelings of loneliness, a leading cause of worsening or reoccurring depression.
Increase Your Productivity
A large part of being mindful is living in the moment. To do that, you need to focus on one thing at a time. Given how many people see multitasking as essential to finishing all their daily tasks, people tend to reject truly practicing mindfulness. They will practice mindfulness when they do not have to multitask. This, of course, defeats the purpose of trying to live mindfully, but it also lowers your productivity. Believe it or not, multitasking actually makes people less productive. Practicing mindfulness by working on one task at a time, then, can greatly increase a person’s productivity.
Mindful living also helps increase productivity by making the brain less likely to be distracted. The cells in your brain use particular frequencies to regulate the transference of information “in much the same way that radio stations broadcast at certain frequencies.” The frequency that helps suppress irrelevant or distracting sensations is called the alpha rhythm. According to a Harvard study, eight weeks of mindfulness training gave participants “faster and significantly more pronounced attention-based adjustments to the alpha rhythm.”
Increases Your Self-Confidence
False ideas about yourself and dissatisfaction with your body both eat away at your self-confidence. Mindful living, however, can help with both of those issues.
People who practice mindful living have been shown to have increased body satisfaction. This increased satisfaction with one’s appearance, of course, helps reduce the feelings of shame and inadequacy that can cripple a person’s self-confidence and keep them from pursuing opportunities that would allow them to increase their self-confidence. According to a study published in 2014, mindfulness and meditation led to “greater reductions in body dissatisfaction, body shame, and contingent self-worth based upon appearance, as well as great gains in self-compassion and body appreciation. All improvements were maintained when assessed three months later.”
In addition to mending your relationship with your body, mindful living can help you improve your relationship with your personality by increasing your self-awareness. Those who live mindfully are better able to analyze themselves objectively and conquer the mental blind spots which leave them either unaware or hyper aware of their own flaws and talents.
Shrinks Your Stress
Everyone seems to want a way to cope with stress these days. There are teas that lower stress, foods that are proclaimed to help people deal with stress and exercise routines dedicated solely to, you guessed it, lowering stress. Mindful living, however, does more than decrease how much stress a person is feeling. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, in a person’s bloodstream.
In addition to lowering a person’s cortisol levels, mindfulness practices have been shown to actually reduce the size of a person’s amygdala. The amygdala is your “lizard brain” and is responsible for the fight, flight or freeze response. It is also heavily involved in your body’s reactions to minor, everyday stressors. Mindfulness does not only shrink a person’s “lizard brain." As the amygdala shrinks, the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with awareness, decision-making and concentration, grows.
Reacting is an instinctive, emotional response. Reacting is what you do when someone snaps at you and you snap right back. It is also what happens when you yell at family members or pets. Reactions are normally defensive, driven by emotion instead of thought and often regrettable. Responding, on the other hand, is driven by thought and reason. Rather than shouting at a child or confused puppy, someone who is responding will take a deep breath and deal with the situation calmly. This does not mean that they will ignore the child or puppy’s bad behavior, but they will handle the situation using conscious decisions instead of lashing out emotionally.
There are a myriad of benefits to living mindfully that can help your physical wellbeing as well as your emotional health. From increased productivity to better sleep, mindful living can help improve almost every aspect of your life. So take a step back and pay attention to what you are doing every day. Live in the present moment and watch as that mindfulness makes each moment get better and better.
Stephanie Hertzenberg is a writer and editor at Beliefnet. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary where she majored in Religious Studies and minored in Creative Writing. She maintains an avid interest in health, history and science.