We are lucky to live in a time during which conversations about mental health occur more freely than ever. Not only is the general stigma surrounding talking about mental health declining, but the concept of mental health as a crucial factor in our overall wellbeing is gaining more recognition and validity every day. From celebrities talking openly about their struggles, to schools offering mental health days to their students, discussions surrounding mental health have never been so visible.
From a holistic perspective, mental health is every bit as important as physical health. Poor mental health can even cause poor physical health-- for example, depression has been linked to increased risk of such chronic illnesses as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, insomnia, and more. Since unregulated mental health affects all aspects of our lives, it’s important that we always stay aware of what’s going on in our heads.
One of the most powerful tools we have for maintaining good mental health is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the mental state we reach by being focused on living in the present moment, letting thoughts and feelings flow through us without judgment. Mindfulness can take many forms, from specific meditation practices, to going for a walk, to just doing something you love while being fully present and undistracted. Whatever form it takes, mindfulness and mental health go hand-in-hand.
Mindfulness helps you accept your feelings without judgment
It’s ironic and unfortunate how often we beat ourselves up for feeling bad. We often tell ourselves we shouldn’t be feeling a particular way, or try to rationalize in situations where rational thought isn’t realistic. One of the tenets of mindfulness practices is taking stock of what you’re feeling and making note of it without judgment. It’s a good reminder that we don’t need to feel guilty for reacting naturally to things that are beyond our control. Mindfulness is especially useful when it’s hard to pinpoint a specific cause for negative feelings. By calmly processing our feelings, it can help us locate a deeper root cause, or simply help us remember that not everything about our emotional state has to make sense.
Mindfulness can help you regulate your emotions
Experiencing a wave of strong emotions can be challenging. But mindfulness gives us the tools to keep from becoming overwhelmed by them. By paying attention to our thoughts, we can begin to identify patterns in our thinking, which can pull us out of destructive loops. It’s not about becoming detached from your feelings, but rather taking a step back to look at different situations with greater perspective. Mindfulness gives us better control over our emotions, which bolsters a more even reaction to stressful events and a more even mood overall.
Mindfulness can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression
While not a magical cure-all, mindfulness practices can be useful to many people in reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. Mindfulness’s focus on breath and calmness allows the body to lower its stress response. One study found that people who practiced meditation were better equipped to handle stressful situations without intrusive unhelpful thoughts. Another found mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was able to provide relief for some people with symptoms of severe depression. Because mental health is so closely tied to physical health, mindfulness practices, specifically meditation, have been shown to benefit overall wellbeing. One study found that people who meditated over a period of eight weeks saw a significant reduction in blood pressure. Other benefits of the physical state induced by mindfulness practices include better sleep, increased immune function, and better cardiovascular health.
Mindfulness increases our own compassion for ourselves
Sometimes it’s easy to feel compassion for other people, but hard to grant it to ourselves. But using mindfulness techniques to accept the moment in front of us leads naturally to practicing acceptance for ourselves in our daily lives. The fact that looking at our thoughts without judgment helps us find patterns also helps us remember that every feeling, good or bad, is only temporary. Things happen beyond our control, and there’s no reason to feel guilty for our natural emotional response.
If you’re new to mindfulness, don’t be afraid to get started. While long meditation sessions are great, they might not be for you. Fortunately, there are plenty of simple ways to engage in mindfulness practice. Here are just a few:
- Spend 3 minutes focusing on taking deep breaths
- Be fully present while you’re eating
- Use an app for a guided meditation
- Go for a slow, mindful walk
- Pay attention to your body while you’re exercising
- Do something you love and be fully present for it
- Spend a few minutes thinking kind thoughts about people you love