If you’re reading this, you’re breathing. What’s interesting about breathing is we do it regardless of whether we’re thinking about it — that is, this essential bodily function is subconscious or involuntary, according to the book Human Biology published by Thompson Rivers University. Yet we can also voluntarily control our breathing when we are conscious of our breathing patterns. For example, we can choose to control our breath by slowing it down or speeding it up, or by taking shallow or deep breaths.
How we breathe affects our health. By breathing more deeply or controlling our breath intentionally, we can impact our body in a number of positive ways, says Baxter Bell, MD, a former family doctor who now works as a certified yoga instructor and practices medical acupuncture. “For starters, we can lower our blood pressure and stress level, and think more clearly,” he says. Feeling calm and centered after deep breathing is common, and a breathing practice can promote a greater sense of well-being, he says.
If you’re interested in how deep-breathing works and how it can be beneficial, keep reading to find out more about this valuable health tool that requires no special equipment and can be accessed at any moment of your day.
What Is the Function of Breathing?
There are two phases of breathing: inhaling (taking breath in) and exhaling (breathing out). When you inhale, the diaphragm — which is the big, dome-shaped muscle located between your lungs and your heart — contracts and moves downward. This creates extra space in the chest cavity, and the lungs expand into it. When you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes as the amount of air in the lungs is reduced.
Breathing is essential to life because our bodies require oxygen to function; moving your muscles, digesting food, and even reading these words are all body processes that require oxygen. Breathing also helps the body get rid of carbon dioxide, which is created as a waste product of these processes.
What Is Deep Breathing?
Controlling the breath can be part of a yoga or mindfulness practice, but breath-focused meditation doesn’t have to be deep breathing, says Dr. Riehl. “Some yoga breathing can be similar to diaphragmatic breathing, but it can sometimes be very different. For example, [for] some breathing patterns in yoga, you are supposed to keep your mouth closed,” she says. In diaphragmatic breathing or deep breathing, you typically are encouraged breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, she says.
“Breath-focused meditation can be an entry point of bringing you to a mindful place, accepting the present moment for what it is. Your breath is the one true thing that is present in the moment — you can’t breathe ahead, and you can’t breathe backwards,” says Riehl.
“In meditation or guided relaxation, oftentimes the practice will begin with an awareness of your breath as you breathe in and out, but you might not practice deep breathing or change anything about your breath pattern,” she says.
“It might just be an invitation to pay attention to or notice: Are you breathing quickly or slowly? Is it shallow or deep? That aspect of mindfulness or starting a meditation is a little bit different from intentionally practicing diaphragmatic breathing,” says Riehl.
Downsides of Shallow Breathing
“Stress can shift our breathing,” says Riehl. “We can become shallow breathers in the face of stress or tension.”
This usually has to do with our body’s sympathetic arousal, which can be activated in times of stress, she says. This is also known as the “fight or flight response,” and the release of hormones can drive up our breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure, says Riehl. This response prepares the body to survive a real or perceived threat, so whether there’s a car swerving at you or you’re going to talk to your boss about a raise, the body’s sympathetic system responds similarly, as an article published in July 2021 in StatPearls notes.
Shallow breathing can lead to physical tension in different parts of your body, including your shoulders, jaw, hands, or back, she says. “That tension also is associated with increased GI distress. Overall, it can have a snowball effect — stress might trigger more shallow breathing, and then the physical effects can lead to more stress,” she says.
Abdominal vs. Chest Breathing
We’re all born as deep breathers, says Riehl. “Think about a sleeping infant. Their little bellies rise and fall slowly and peacefully — you can see that really clearly,” she says.
When we move out of infancy and begin to move and run around more, we shift from being belly breathers or deeper breathers to breathing from our chest more, says Riehl.
Chest breathing still gets the job done of moving the air through our lungs, but the breath tends to be shorter and more shallow, says Dr. Lin. “For most of us, when we’re engaged in our everyday breathing, we’re just breathing using the upper half or top third of our lungs. When you take a deep breath in, your chest is rising, but for most people, your abdomen is not moving at all,” she says.
Abdominal breathing starts in the nose and moves to the stomach as the diaphragm contracts, causing the belly to expand and the lungs to fill with air.
Compared with chest breathing, abdominal breathing not only brings in more oxygen, but it’s also more efficient, because it pulls down on the lungs. The negative pressure that’s created results in more air flowing into the lungs.
Potential Health Benefits of Deep Breathing
A key benefit of deep breathing is that it can help manage stress, which is a contributor to many health conditions, says Bell. While research results on deep breathing vary, experts agree deep breathing is safe for most people to try.
Whether done alone, as a meditation, or in combination with a movement practice like yoga, this complementary approach may be worth trying if you are dealing with a health condition. For instance, deep breathing may help you manage or improve:
High blood sugar levels and oxidative stress, which contribute to disease progression, in type 2 diabetes
Recovery from COVID-19 because it can help boost lung capacity, improve diaphragm function, and lessen stress levels associated with the novel coronavirus
Riehl has witnessed the benefits of deep breathing among her patients with GI conditions, which include IBS and UC. The way the diaphragm moves in deep breathing can allow for a reduction in tension in the digestive tracts, she says. “This can aid digestion and help with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) symptoms, constipation, and diarrhea,” says Riehl.
In terms of emotional wellness, the ability to employ deep breathing when you find yourself overwhelmed or overstressed can be very helpful in the way we feel and think. “The more stressed we become, the harder it can be for us to think clearly,” she says.
Though their origins are complex, mental health disorders are associated with high stress levels.
Often people who are facing chronic stress, which has gotten even more common since the pandemic, have their normal breath rhythm disrupted, explains Bell. “That imbalance could contribute to anxiety, insomnia, or any number of unwanted effects. By doing mindful breath exercises, they can start to rebalance their breath system,” he says.
Are There Any Health Risks Associated With Deep Breathing?
In the scheme of interventions, deep breathing is very low risk, says Riehl. “Sometimes people will say when they are learning diaphragmatic breathing that they can feel a little light-headed. That’s because they are putting more oxygen in their body than they are typically used to,” she says, and levels of carbon dioxide are lowered, notes MedlinePlus. It might make you feel different from how you typically feel when you breathe, but it’s not dangerous in any capacity, she adds. If you have any concerns or discomfort such as pain or excessive light-headedness when starting a deep breathing technique, consult your healthcare team.
How to Start Practicing Deep Breathing
You might plan to set aside time each day to practice deep breathing, or you can choose to do it whenever you find yourself feeling stressed or overwhelmed, says Riehl. Because deep breathing can be a natural sleep aid, doing it before bedtime can also be helpful.
“In those stressful times, you might even catch yourself holding your breath or gasping a little bit. If you can shift that through deep breathing or another relaxation technique, you can have a little bit more control of activating what’s called our parasympathetic system, or our body’s relaxation response. By doing that, we can bring things back to baseline,” she says.
A Simple Deep-Breathing Exercise for Beginners
Riehl regularly works with deep-breathing newbies, and she suggests the following exercise to get started.
Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Breathe normally; you’ll probably notice how the top hand is moving more than the bottom hand. Riehl says your goal is to shift that so that the top hand remains steady and the bottom hand begins to move as the belly rises and falls.
Allow your belly to be soft as you take a deep breath in through your nose. Counting to yourself can be helpful to get into a rhythm; breathe in through your nose to about a count of 4, she says. As you breathe in, the belly is going to rise very slowly and then as you exhale, the belly will fall. “Try to make your exhale last a second or two longer than your inhale,” says Riehl. “Practice that for 6 to 10 breaths; you don’t need to do this for 20 minutes if you’re new to deep breathing.”
Once you get comfortable with it, you can let go of counting if you want to, she says. “Just notice it takes a couple seconds to breathe in and for that belly to rise, and then a couple seconds to breathe out and for the belly to fall, aiming to have your exhale last just a little bit longer than your inhale.”
Slowing down and controlling breath during a difficult situation — whether you’re feeling anxious, have a flare-up of lower back pain, or something else — can make a real difference, says Bell. “It can give a sense of control in situations where we often feel out of control. It’s empowering to have something you can immediately put into action,” he says.
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Chaddha A, et al. Device and Non-Device-Guided Slow Breathing to Reduce Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Complementary Therapy Medicine. August 2019.
Ma X, et al. The Effect of Diaphragmatic Breathing on Attention, Negative Affect and Stress in Healthy Adults. Frontiers in Psychology. June 2017.
Huang AJ et al. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Device Guided, Slow-Paced Respiration in Women With Overactive Bladder Syndrome. Journal of Urology. September 6, 2019.
Ubolnuar N et al. Effects of Breathing Exercises in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Annals of Rehabilitation Medicine. August 21, 2019.
Breathing Exercises for Asthma. Cochrane. March 25, 2020.
Chan BR et al. Yoga, Meditation and Mind-Body Health: Increased BDNF, Cortisol Awakening Response, and Altered Inflammatory Marker Expression After a 3-Month Yoga and Meditation Retreat. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. June 26, 2017.
If you’ve been following this blog, you know that there are countless ways to apply mindfulness in your everyday life.
You have probably also noticed that there are tons of benefits of practicing mindfulness regularly.
Although we’ve talked about these benefits in a few other places, we thought it would be helpful to provide one resource that breaks down all of the great benefits of practicing mindfulness in one place, with sources to back them up.
If you’re wondering what you can get out of being mindful, read on to learn about all the great things mindfulness can do for you!
Before you read on, we thought you might like to download our 3 Mindfulness Exercises for free. These science-based, comprehensive exercises will not only help you cultivate a sense of inner peace throughout your daily life but will also give you the tools to enhance the mindfulness of your clients, students or employees.
An entire stress reduction program, with decades of experience and tens of thousands of practitioners, is an excellent indication that mindfulness works.
In addition to the outcomes of MBSR, there have been numerous studies supporting the idea that mindfulness reduces stress.
One study on present-moment awareness found that it facilitates an adaptive response to daily stressors (Donald, Atkins, Parker, Christie, & Ryan, 2016). Another study by Donald and Atkins (2016) found evidence that mindfulness produced less avoidance and more approach coping as a response to stress than relaxation or self-affirmation controls.
Mindfulness can also help alleviate stress by improving emotion regulation, leading to a better mood and better ability to handle stress (Remmers, Topolinski, & Koole, 2016).
The impact of mindfulness on stress can also be seen in several specific groups, including:
Those who suffer from restless legs syndrome (Bablas, Yap, Cunnington, Swieca, & Greenwood, 2016);
For an excellent dive into how mindfulness affects the experience of stress, check out the Little Book of Mindfulness by Rebecca Howden and Medibank. I’ll leave it to them to dive into the nitty-gritty, but I’ll describe their explanation of the relaxation response.
Howden and Medibank first list the symptoms of stress, including:
Constantly feeling anxious and worried;
Feeling irritable, agitated and easily annoyed;
Argumentative and defensive with friends and family;
Low levels of energy, often waking up feeling tired;
Restless and frenetic mind;
Often self-critical and/or critical of others;
Feeling flat and uninspired;
Having difficulty concentrating;
Skin rashes and conditions;
Clenching your jaw muscles and grinding your teeth at night;
Headaches and migraines.
When you induce a state of relaxation, which can be achieved through mindfulness, another kind of meditation, or other activities, you can reap the benefits, including:
Higher brain functioning;
Increased immune function;
Lowered blood pressure;
Lowered heart rate;
Increased attention and focus;
Increased clarity in thinking and perception;
Lowered anxiety levels;
Experience of being calm and internally still;
Experience of feeling connected.
Gaining these benefits can be as simple as closing your eyes and being silent for a few minutes a day. This is a practice that is so easy, anyone can do it!
2. Enhanced Ability to Deal with Illness
Perhaps one of the most studied groups in terms of the impacts of mindfulness is cancer patients and others who are suffering from a chronic or potentially terminal illness.
Mindfulness may not take away their symptoms, but it can help make them more manageable.
For example, the eCALM trial, a therapy program for cancer patients, found that mindfulness can reduce symptoms of stress, enhance spirituality and non-reactivity to experience, facilitate post-traumatic growth, and enhance vigor while relieving fatigue (Zernicke, Campbell, Speca, ruff, Tamagawa, & Carlson, 2016).
Another cancer-specific mindfulness program decreased rumination and worry and increased observing and nonjudging in cancer patients (Labelle, Campbell, Faris, & Carlson, 2015).
An exploration of MBSR for those suffering from chronic low back pain found that mindfulness improved patients’ ability to function independently and resulted in less back pain than treatment as usual (Cherkin, Sherman, Balderson, Cook, Anderson, Hawkes, Hansen, & Turner, 2016).
Mindfulness can also help patients to focus less on the pain, improving their quality of life
(Garland & Howard, 2013).
A study on the use of MBSR with lung cancer patients and their partners showed that mindfulness can instigate a process of positive change in patients and their partners, as well as relieving caregiver burden in partners (van den Hurk, Schellekens, Molema, Speckens, & van der Drift, 2015).
Similarly, a review of MBSR for family caregivers found that mindfulness can decrease stress, depression, and anxiety in those caring for a loved one who is sick (Li, Yuan, & Zhang, 2016).
3. Facilitation of Recovery
Mindfulness can not only help you deal with a chronic or potentially terminal illness or life-threatening event, but it can also help you move on from it.
A study of MBSR in Chinese breast cancer survivors provided evidence that mindfulness can enhance post-traumatic growth and decrease stress and anxiety in cancer patients (Zhang, Zhou, Feng, Fan, Zeng, & Wei, 2017).
Another study of young breast cancer survivors showed that women who practiced mindfulness were more likely to experience increased self-kindness, decreased rumination, and decreased stress (Boyle, Stanton, Ganz, Crespi, & Bower, 2017).
Mindfulness, yoga, and meditation have also been found to decrease anxiety and facilitate post-traumatic growth in breast cancer survivors, in addition to increasing vigor and spirituality (Tamagawa, Speca, Stephen, Lawlor-Savage, & Carlson, 2015).
4. Decreased Depressive Symptoms
Mindfulness has long been considered an effective supplemental treatment for depression.
It has been found to decrease depressive symptoms, anxiety, and stress in college students, as well as increasing self-compassion when compared with yoga alone (Falsafi, 2016).
One of the ways in which mindfulness can help treat depression is through enhancing practitioners’ ability to regulate their emotions. Mindfulness provides the tools needed to step back from intense negative emotions, identify them, and accept them instead of fighting them. This allows mindful thinkers to better regulate their emotions, leading to better coping and management of depression.
A study by Costa and Barnhofer (2016) backs this theory. They found that, when compared to guided imagery relaxation, a brief training in mindfulness helped participants struggling with depression to reduce their symptoms through greater emotion regulation.
Another study found that MBCT reduced depressive episodes, which not only helped participants feel better but also had positive impacts on their health care costs (Shawyer, Enticott, Özmen, Inder, & Meadows, 2016).
Mindfulness is even effective for people dealing with the most critical of depressive symptoms: suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide. In chronically depressed participants with suicidal thoughts, mindfulness was more effective than treatment as usual in reducing these thoughts (Forkmann, Brakemeier, Teismann, Schramm, & Michalak, 2016).
5. Improved General Health
Beyond the many mental health benefits of mindfulness, it can also improve your general health.
For example, a study of how the two facets of mindfulness impact health behaviors found that practicing mindfulness can enhance or increase multiple behaviors related to health, like getting regular health check-ups, being physically active, using seat belts, and avoiding nicotine and alcohol (Jacobs, Wollny, Sim, & Horsch, 2016).
Another study on mindfulness and health showed that mindfulness is related to improved cardiovascular health through a lower incidence of smoking, more physical activity, and a healthier body mass index (Loucks, Britton, Howe, Eaton, & Buka, 2015).
Additionally, mindfulness has been positively linked with lower blood pressure, especially when the practitioner is skilled in nonjudging and nonreactivity (Timor, Pung, Mills, & Edwards, 2015).
Finally, in a study on the impacts of mindfulness on the psychological and physical health of obese or overweight adults, researchers found that mindfulness helped participants lose weight, improve their eating behaviors and attitudes, and decrease depression and anxiety (Rogers, Ferrari, Mosely, Lang, & Brennan, 2017).
While all of these benefits of mindfulness can be experienced by children as well as adults, there are some benefits that have been found specifically in young people. These are outlined in the next section.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness for Kids and Students
Many studies have been conducted using college students as participants, as they are an easily accessible population that is often willing to participate for simple incentives like extra credit or some extra spending money.
Mindfulness studies with children as the participants are becoming more common as well, as more and more benefits of mindfulness on early development are discovered. We’ll describe some of the amazing outcomes associated with mindfulness on children, teens, and young adults here.
Benefits for College Students
Adults are not the only ones who can reap the benefits of mindfulness.
College students have also experienced incredible positive impacts resulting from the practice of mindfulness.
A study on mindfulness in college students found that medical and psychology students who practiced mindfulness reported improvements in a wide range of areas, including decreased reactivity, increased curiosity and affect tolerance, improved patience, and self-acceptance, and enhanced relational qualities (Solhaug, Eriksen, de Vibe, Haavind, Friborg, Sørlie, & Rosenvinge, 2016).
Problems with alcohol are more prevalent in college students than many other populations and can lead to serious issues with both academic progress and life in general. Mindfulness may be an effective tool for addressing this issue, as it has been negatively linked with alcohol problems and can help students deal with the stress that may prompt drinking in this population (Bodenlos, Noonan, & Wells, 2013).
Mindfulness has also been shown to be an important link between the depressive symptoms that spring from alcohol-related problems and the incidence of drinking to cope in college students (Bravo, Pearson, Stevens, & Henson, 2016).
College students who practice or have practiced mindfulness were less likely to experience depression stemming from the use of alcohol to cope with their problems.
Another study on drinking in college students found that those who practice mindfulness are engaged in lower rates of problematic drinking, especially those proficient in acting with awareness and nonjudging (Vinci, Spears, Peltier, & Copeland, 2016).
The effects of mindfulness on the likelihood of drinking may be due in part to the impact of mindfulness on self-control. College students who participated in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) reported enhanced self-control and vitality, among other outcomes (Canby, Cameron, Calhoun, & Buchanan, 2015).
Similarly, a study on mindfulness and emotion regulation in college students found that higher levels of mindfulness predicted better regulation of emotions and suppression of thoughts (MacDonald & Baxter, 2016). Better self-regulation and self-control contribute to the more effective positive inhibition of destructive behaviors and, in turn, greater psychological well-being.
In general, children are not likely to have the same problems college students do (especially problems like over-imbibing!), but there are many areas in which mindfulness can have positive outcomes for children.
Improved Academic Success
Mindfulness is known to be effective in helping students achieve academic success in a variety of ways, and this benefit is not reserved for any specific group.
The following groups of children have enjoyed the benefits of mindfulness when it comes to their academic performance:
Elementary students who practice mindfulness exhibit greater prosocial behaviors, emotion regulation, and academic performance (Harpin, Rossi, Kim, & Swanson, 2016);
Teenagers studying for a general education certificate who participated in a mindfulness program experienced lower depression and anxiety, which contributed to improved academic attainment (Bennett & Dorjee, 2016);
Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who participated in a five-week mindfulness program reported decreased stress, allowing them to focus on school (Costello & Lawler, 2014);
Urban male youth who participated in MBSR experienced less stress, anxiety, and negative coping, improving their ability to deal with academic stress and achieve academic success (Sibinga, Perry-Parrish, Chung, Johnson, Smith, & Ellen, 2013);
Children with ADHD displayed less aggression and conduct problems when exposed to mindfulness therapy, which helps them focus on their academics (Singh, Soamya, & Ramnath, 2016);
Homeless middle school students who participated in a mindfulness course reported greater well-being and a higher incidence of using mindfulness in school, which can lead to greater quality of life and academic achievement (Viafora, Mathiesen, & Unsworth, 2015).
Buffer against Bullying and Depression
Mindfulness can even help kids deal with bullies!
A Chinese study on bullying victims and depression showed that mindfulness can protect children against the depressive symptoms that can arise from being victimized by bullies (Zhou, Liu, Niu, Sun, & Fan, 2017).
A dissertation by Sandra Mccloy (2005) on mindfulness as a coping tool for bullying suggested that mindfulness can help children consider perspectives other than their own and find constructive reactions in the face of bullying.
Mindfulness may even be an effective tool for addressing bullying at the source. Improving empathy with tools like mindfulness and improving social and emotional learning could be the key to stopping bullies before they become bullies (Kaldis & Abramiuk, 2016).
Provide Support and Boost Resilience
Mindfulness can also aid children who have been involved in the welfare or mental health care system. A study on a mindfulness program for vulnerable children found that mindfulness improved emotion regulation, mood, empathy, confidence and self-esteem, coping and social skills, and ability to pay attention and focus (Coholic & Eys, 2016).
Resilience is a very effective skill for children to cope with daily struggles and develop emotionally, psychologically, and academically. Mindfulness training has been shown to boost resilience in children and help them understand and regulate their own emotions (Coholic, 2011; Coholic, Eys, & Lougheed, 2012).
In the classroom, mindfulness can be as simple as adding a station for students to visit any time they are feeling a hard emotion. This station can have crayons and be a “pause” station for students to spend 5-10 minutes before reflecting on the emotion.
Another study showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children reduced problem behaviors, attention problems, and anxiety while improving children’s social-emotional resiliency (Semple, Lee, Rosa, & Miller, 2010).
And the benefits of mindfulness don’t stop here. Mindfulness in the workplace also has numerous benefits for all levels of staff.
Advantages of Integrating Mindfulness in the Workplace
Although many of the benefits of mindfulness described above can and do affect individuals in all areas of their lives including work, mindfulness’ impact on job performance may be the outcome that gets the most attention and interest from managers and executives.
There are several ways that mindfulness has been shown to impact job performance, including:
Gallant (2016) found that mindfulness can improve executive functioning by improving inhibition abilities;
Mindfulness in service industry workers improves job performance, even when controlling for workers’ level of engagement (Dane & Brummel, 2014);
De Bruin, Formsma, Frijstein, & Bögels (2017) showed that mindfulness in the workplace can actually increase the number of contract hours worked by employees, a result that will certainly catch the attention of higher-ups;
Office employees who participated in an eight-week mindfulness intervention experienced lower levels of work-related stress, greater job satisfaction, and, ultimately, enhanced job performance as rated by their employers (Shonin, Van Gordon, Dunn, Singh, & Griffiths, 2014).
Beyond job performance, mindfulness has also been applied to the workplace for other benefits that can contribute to a healthy and productive work environment.
Reduced Work-Related Stress and Psychological Distress
One of the most common benefits of practicing mindfulness in the workplace is the decrease in stress experienced by employees.
Researchers Grégoire and Lachance (2015) found that employees at call centers who took part in a brief mindfulness intervention reported decreased stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and negative affect, while also experiencing greater satisfaction at work.
Similarly, employees from the Dow Chemical Company enjoyed less stress and increased resiliency and vigor after completing an online mindfulness intervention (Aikens, Astin, Pelletier, Levanovich, Baase, Park, & Bodnar, 2014).
Huang, Li, Huang, and Tang (2015) also found that mindfulness reduces stress, fatigue, and psychological distress, especially for employees struggling with poor mental health.
A study of public sector employees showed that this group was also able to benefit from the mental health effects of mindfulness. These employees reported less stress, reduced psychological distress, and improved social functioning and quality of life (Bartlett, Lovell, Otahal, Sanderson, & Tasmania, 2016).
Decreasing Turnover and Burnout
Along with the decreases in stress, mindfulness can also lower the incidence of burnout and turnover at work.
Researchers Taylor and Millear (2016) found that mindfulness helps employees construct a buffer between their work and becoming burned out.
Dane and Brummel’s (2014) study also discovered an inverse relationship between mindfulness and turnover intention, meaning that employees who are higher in mindfulness are less likely to leave their jobs for any reason. The study referenced earlier by de Bruin and colleagues (2017) also uncovered the reduction in the risk of employees dropping out of work when mindfulness is encouraged in the workplace.
Burnout seems to occur less in workplaces that encourage and offer spaces for mindfulness.
Goodman and Schorling (2012) found that mindfulness-based stress reduction reduced work-related burnout and improved mental well-being among healthcare providers. A study of Australian psychologists added more support to this theory, finding a strong negative association between mindfulness and burnout (Di Benedetto & Swadling, 2014).
Further research on mindfulness at work showed that mindfulness can act as a buffer for unsupportive work environments, enhancing well-being at work and contributing to lower levels of burnout for employees from a range of careers (Schultz, Ryan, Niemiec, Legate, & Williams, 2015).
Clearly, mindfulness has some extremely positive impacts on both individuals and the work they produce. But how does mindfulness produce these outcomes?
Research on Mindfulness and the Brain
Recently, a lot of research has been conducted on what effects mindfulness has on the brain. It’s clear that practicing mindfulness can lead to positive outcomes, but many researchers want to know why it works as well.
This is where neuroplasticity comes in.
Neuroplasticity is, at its most basic level, the ability of the brain to change and adapt over time.
This adaptation happens regularly, as the brain constantly works to make itself more efficient and effective, but neuroplasticity is of specific interest to researchers in the context of brain injuries like a stroke. Our brains can actually reorganize themselves to ensure that functions continue unhindered after a traumatic injury (Honan, 2017).
Whenever we complete a new task or find a more effective way to do something, our brain takes note, often making structural or connection changes to facilitate our next attempt at this task.
When we practice mindfulness, we send the message to our brain that we are more effective at dealing with everyday tasks when we are aware, observant, nonreactive, and nonjudgmental. This causes our brain to make the changes that will improve our ability to function mindfully.
Note: For the more neurobiologically inclined among our readers, continue on in this section to read more about how the brain changes after practicing mindfulness. If you’ve already had enough talk of brain structures and gray matter, feel free to skip the jargon and head straight to the next section!
For example, meditation practice has been linked to an increased thickness in the cortex, an area that is important for a general cognitive function like attention and sensory processing (Lazar et al., 2005).
Similarly, long-term meditation is linked with a denser gray matter in the brain stem, an area that is linked to cardiorespiratory control (Vestergaard-Poulsen, van Beek, Skewes, Bjarkam, Stubberup, Bertelsen, & Reopstorff, 2009). This may help explain how mindfulness produces positive outcomes in cardiovascular, as well as general, health.
A study on an 8-week MBSR program showed that the regular practice of mindfulness increased grey matter in the left hippocampus, an area involved in learning and memory (Hölzel, Carmody, Vangel, Congleton, Yerramsetti, Gard, & Lazar, 2011). This finding can help us make sense of the improvements in academic achievement and job performance that can result from mindfulness.
Mindfulness has also been shown to result in changes in white matter, particularly in areas involving brain interconnection and self-regulation (Tang, Lu, Fan, Yang, & Posner, 2012). You’ll recall from above that improved self-regulation is a key result of mindfulness practice, and can lead to a plethora of advantageous outcomes.
In general, mindfulness is known to impact brain systems that control emotion regulation and self-awareness (Paulus, 2016), which makes sense given the outcomes we have seen in the practice of mindfulness.
Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
More specifically, one study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess changes in the brain after an eight-week mindfulness course.
Results showed that the prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, and other areas experienced heightened activity and connectivity, while the amygdala experienced decreased functional activity and earlier deactivation after exposure to emotionally charged stimuli (Gotink, Meijboom, Vernooji, Smits, & Hunink, 2016).
This means that the areas of the brain associated with higher-level functioning were more active, while the area of the brain that handles stress and strong emotions was less involved. These findings match the behavioral changes we see after a mindfulness program, like better emotion regulation, less reactivity, and even better performance on tasks.
Another study of brain activity related to mindfulness found evidence that mindfulness is associated with areas of the brain related to memory retrieval, decision making, and outward attention, all functions which can help link the bridge between mindfulness and improved mental health and job performance, among other outcomes (Gartenschläger, Schreckenberger, Buccholz, Reiner, Beutel, Adler, & Michal, 2017).
While the science of neuroplasticity in relation to mindfulness is still relatively young (as neuroscience as a whole is relatively young!), these studies and others have provided a solid foundation for continuing research on how mindfulness impacts the brain.
The Importance of Consistent Practice
“Each morning we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.”
While everyone has something to gain from practicing mindfulness, there is one caveat: to reap the maximum benefits of mindfulness, it truly needs to be a practice, meaning that it must occur regularly and often.
Nearly all of the articles mentioned above on the benefits of mindfulness are based on a mindfulness practice of five to eight weeks, or more. While a regular practice is vital, it does not need to be a huge commitment. Even a brief, 10-minute daily practice can result in more efficient cognition and better self-regulation (Moore, Gruber, Derose, & Malinowski, 2012)!
Another study on the effects of a 10-minute mindfulness exercise showed that even just a few minutes of mindfulness practice can lead to better executive attention and recognition memory, leading to better performance on a simple task (Watier & Dubois, 2016).
If you need some tips on how to commit to a regular mindfulness practice, try the following (Lucid Living, 2013):
Find the right motivation and intention. If you are experiencing a busy day or just don’t feel like practicing mindfulness, it might help to remind yourself why you practice and what it can do for you.
Find the right attitude and attention. Each practice will be different, but try not to think of them as “better” or “worse.” There is no bad way to become more mindful.
Find the right time and timing. Just as each practice will be different, the length of time appropriate for your practice can vary as well. Some days you may need only a few minutes, and other times you may want to stick with it for a bit longer to make sure you have a rewarding experience.
Find the right spot and posture. It’s important to feel safe and secure, wherever you decide to practice. That may be on a cushion on the floor, in your office chair at work, or even sitting in your car in traffic. You will benefit from finding a comfortable and familiar spot for your regular practice, but there’s no harm in modifying your seat or posture if circumstances require it!
Find the right routine and stick to it! Although the length, location, and posture of your practice can and will change depending on your situation, it’s best to make a minimum commitment when it comes to frequency. Whether practicing once a day works best for you, or multiple times a day, find a routine that you will be able to stick to in the long-term.
Another helpful way to support your commitment to a daily practice of mindfulness is to assign a different value to each day’s practice.
Dr. Amit Sood, the chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative, provides the following mindfulness schedule as a template:
Monday: Gratitude – Find things to be thankful for throughout your day, and include them in your loving kindness meditation or a gratitude journal;
Tuesday: Compassion – Set an intention to decrease any pain or suffering in others that you encounter throughout your day;
Wednesday: Acceptance – Accept yourself as you are and others as they are; appreciate yourself and other people without trying to change them;
Thursday: Meaning and Purpose – Think about your ultimate purpose in life, and where and how you find meaning;
Friday: Forgiveness – Forgive yourself first, then extend your forgiveness to others for any past transgressions;
Saturday: Celebration – Make sure to take a day to celebrate all the joy in your life and the lives of others;
Sunday: Reflection – Reflect on your week, your month, your year, or whatever period of time makes sense to you at the moment. This can be accomplished through meditation, prayer, or simple awareness.
A Take-Home Message
This article was packed with a lot of information, but I hope you found that it was worth your time.
To recap, this article included numerous potential benefits of practicing mindfulness for adults, children, and employees, including:
Decreased stress and psychological distress in adults and employees;
Enhanced mental health and functioning;
Increased emotion regulation and self-control;
Decreased anxiety, depression, worry, and rumination;
Reduced incidence of problem drinking and symptoms associated with problem drinking;
Enhanced academic achievement in students, due to improved ability to focus and improved attention;
Improved social and relational skills;
Reduction in aggression and problem behaviors in children;
Reduced symptoms of burnout in employees;
A decrease in turnover and turnover intentions at work;
Enhanced job performance;
Increased ability to cope with bullying;
Enhanced resilience in children.
There are so many amazing benefits to practicing mindfulness, with more being discovered all the time. With such positive potential outcomes, the reasons not to practice mindfulness are quickly evaporating.
Thank you to REI and Florence Williams for this wonderful read. Science is backing up what we already know about the healing power of nature.
THE NATURE FIX: THE THREE-DAY EFFECT
written by: Florence Williams
Ken Sanders is a seller of rare books in Salt Lake City. Before that, he used to guide rafting trips down the Green and Colorado rivers for commercial clients and for his pals, like Edward Abbey. Starting on the third day, he’d notice the vibe of the whole group change.
“An awareness sets in that the river is now your new reality,” says Sanders, who’s been running rivers for 40 years. “The ritual of unloading the boats, setting up your campsite, gathering around the fire, sharing meals, etc. is now your day-to-day existence. It’s a bonding experience. Your old reality fades away.”
Sanders shared his observation with cognitive neuroscientist David Strayer, who teaches and conducts research at the University of Utah. It immediately struck a chord with Strayer, an avid backpacker who noticed that some of his best ideas emerged after three days of camping out.
“Having hiked around the desert for years, I noticed in myself, and from talking to others, that people think differently after being out in the desert. Their thoughts are clearer, they’re certainly more relaxed, they report being more creative,” says Strayer. “If you can disconnect and experience being in the moment for two or three days, it seems to produce a difference in qualitative thinking.”
Strayer wanted to find ways to test what he started calling “the three-day effect,” a kind of neural reboot that might boost creativity. “I wanted to try to understand what was going on inside the brain,” he says.
So, for a study published in 2012, Strayer and his colleagues Paul and Ruth Ann Atchley from the University of Kansas administered tests to 28 backpackers before and after going on Outward Bound trips. Immediately after a trip, the participants performed 47 percent better in a word-test game that measures creative thinking and insight problem-solving. The game is called the Remote Associates Test, or RAT. It poses a series of three words; for example, tug, gravy and show. The test taker has to come up with the fourth word that fits with all three; in this case, boat.
“A near 50 percent improvement is huge!” says Strayer.
What caused it? Strayer believes the frontal cortex (our executive taskmaster) of the backpackers’ brains got a much-needed break. Strayer often studies networks in the brain, especially the attention network, which typically gets pretty fried in the normal course of life these days. So many things demand our attention: emails, pings, deadlines, chores, grocery lists, elusive parking spots, and, as William Wordsworth put it, all the “getting and spending.” The world, wrote the poet, “is too much with us.” And that was in the early 1800s!
When the attention network is freed up, other parts of the brain appear to take over, like those associated with sensory perception, empathy and productive day-dreaming.
“That first day in nature, your mind is recalibrating and you start to notice things a little bit, to unwind from the modern world,” says Strayer. “You notice cloud patterns, sounds and smells, and it becomes really acute. You don’t need a watch anymore. You forget what day of the week it is.”
The Strayer team’s results caught the attention of some other neuroscientists, such as University of Nebraska researcher Frank Ferraro III, who normally studies addictive behaviors. Curious to see if he could replicate the creativity findings, he gave a similar RAT test to college students before and after a six-day canoeing trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota. This time he also had a control group, a bunch of students who would take the test six days apart in a classroom setting. The earlier results were confirmed: The campers showed a 50 percent improvement after the trip, but there was no meaningful change in the control group.
An older study suggests the cognitive surge isn’t just a vacation effect. In 1991 psychologist Terry Hartig and colleagues tested backpackers as well as people taking sightseeing and other types of vacations, and found increased performance only in the backpackers.
Now Strayer is drilling down further to a part of the attention network, the midline of the frontal cortex, where theta waves become active when we are performing demanding cognitive tasks. He already has data indicating those waves quiet down out in nature, but not, notably, if you’re using your phone at the same time.
His advice: Go outside for three days, and turn the phone off.
Ken Sanders agrees. “I think it takes the first two days and nights to wash away whatever veneer of civilization you have brought with you. The new reality begins on that third day.”
Because mental health care is not an option or a luxury.
Due to the recent coronavirus outbreak, I am currently offering both tele-mental health and in-office sessions. Meeting online is safe and secure with a HIPAA compliant Zoom platform.
Before your appointment, please download the required tele-mental health paperwork (even if you are an existing client and have filled out the initial paperwork). I will link the paperwork below once it is ready. IMPORTANT – DO NOT email the paperwork back to me as it will contain private and sensitive information. Together we will determine the most appropriate way to get the paperwork back to me.
I’ll send you an invite to my online office via Zoom prior to your session. All you need to do is get online, open your email and click on the link.
I’ve loved hiking in the woods ever since my Aunt Ree took me on my first walk in the woods as a small child. It felt like I entered a brand new world – a magical world of trees, moss and animals. A world apart from my normal everyday life, which was far from magical and far from peaceful. I still remember having my peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her on a stop along the trail. It was the most peace I had ever felt. Still today, I find solace in the woods, and hike as often as possible.
Tomorrow I am taking a class in Shinrin-Yoku – or “forest bathing”. I already KNOW how great I feel after being in nature, hiking, kayaking, walking – but I’m excited to learn more about the health benefits of forest bathing from a scientific standpoint. Below is a great article written by Karin Evans and published in the Greater Good Magazine.
I’ve also added a quick 1 minute video (scroll down to the bottom) for those who don’t have the time to read the article; i.e. those of you that would probably benefit from a great forest bath 😉
Why Forest Bathing Is Good for Your Health
From the Greater Good Magazine – Science Based Insights for a Meaningful Life
“Nature deficit disorder” is a modern affliction. With more people living in cities, working in high-rise office buildings, and becoming addicted to their innumerable electronic devices, many of us are indeed experiencing a nature deficit. This is true for children and adults alike.
In his new book, Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Japanese medical doctor and researcher Qing Li presents some sobering statistics: By 2050, according to the United Nations Population Division, three quarters of the world’s people will live in cities. Even now, the average American spends 93 percent of the time indoors, and some ten hours a day on social media—more than they spend asleep.
The Kumano Kodo trail in Japan
In Japan, there’s enough awareness about this deficit that Li heads up an organization called The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine, which promotes research on the therapeutic effects of forests on human health and educates people on the practice of forest bathing. His book—a companion to the center he runs—explores research on these benefits, while offering a number of techniques we can use to enhance them.
“Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being,” writes Li.
The history of forest bathing
Japan is a country that is both urbanized and heavily forested. Trees cover two-thirds of the island’s landmass, and yet a majority of Japan’s people live in crowded city conditions. Li himself lives in Tokyo, a city he describes as “the most crowded city in the world.”
Perhaps that’s why the art of “forest bathing”—shinrin-yoku—began there. Forest bathing involves slowly walking through a forest, taking in the atmosphere through all your senses, and enjoying the benefits that come from such an excursion.
In 1982, Japan launched a national program to encourage forest bathing, and in 2004, a formal study of the link between forests and human health began in Iiyama, Japan—a place particularly known for its lush, green forests. Now, each year upwards of 2.5 million people walk those forest trails as a way to ease stress and enhance health.
Li’s interest in forest research began when he was a stressed-out medical student. He went away for a week of forest camping, and found it restored his physical and emotional health. That inspired him to begin researching the benefits of forests on human health and well-being. In 2004, he helped found the Forest Therapy Study Group, aimed at finding out why being among trees makes us feel so much better.
After years of careful study, Li has found that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health; and boost overall well-being.
“Wherever there are trees, we are healthier and happier,” writes Li. And, he adds, it isn’t about exercising—like hiking or jogging—it’s simply about being in nature.
Why would this be? It’s long been recognized that humans have a biological need to connect with nature. Some 20 years ago, American biologist E. O. Wilson noted that humans are “hardwired” to connect with the natural world, and that being in nature had a profoundly positive effect on human health.
Li’s research seems to corroborate this. For example, one of his studies looked at whether forest bathing could improve sleep patterns among middle-aged Tokyo office workers who tended to suffer sleep deficiency due to high levels of stress. During the study, participants walked the same amount of time in a forest that they usually did in a non-forest setting on a normal working day. After a walk in the forest, participants were significantly less anxious, slept better, and slept longer. In addition, researchers found that afternoon walks were even more beneficial than morning walks.
“You sleep better when you spend time in a forest, even when you don’t increase the amount of physical activity you do,” reported Li.
To further assess the effects of time spent in a forest, Li measured people’s moods before and after walking in the woods or in an urban environment. While other studies have shown that walking anywhere outdoors reduces depression, anxiety, and anger, Li found that only the experience of walking in a forest improved people’s vigor and reduced fatigue.
The health secrets of trees seem to lie in two things—the higher concentration of oxygen that exists in a forest, as compared to an urban setting, and the presence of plant chemicals called phytoncides—natural oils that are part of a plant’s defense system against bacteria, insects, and fungi. Exposure to these substances, says Li, can have measurable health benefits for humans. Physiological stress is reduced, for example, and both blood pressure and heart rate are lowered. Evergreens—pine, cedar, spruce, and conifers—are the largest producers of phytoncides, so walking in an evergreen forest seems to have the greatest health benefits.
How to do forest bathing
So, is there a specific art to forest bathing? Or is it just as easy as a walk in the woods?
Connecting with nature is simple, writes Li. “All we have to do is accept the invitation. Mother Nature does the rest.” Here are some of his suggested steps.
Find a spot. Depending where you are, find a good source of nature. One doesn’t need to journey deep into a forest for these benefits. Just look for any green area. It could be an urban park, a nature preserve, or a trail through suburban woods. Forests with conifers are thought to be particularly beneficial.
“Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you,” Li says. Some people will respond to sunny glades, others to shadier places. Listen to your own wisdom. For people who don’t have access to a forest, or can’t get outside for some reason, infusing essential tree oils in your home can provide benefits, too.
Engage all your senses. “Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands, and feet,” says Li. Actively listen, smell, touch, and look. “Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”
Don’t hurry. Slow walking is recommended for beginners. And it’s good to spend as much time as possible. You’ll notice positive effects after twenty minutes, says Li, but a longer visit, ideally four hours, is better.
Try different activities. Try doing yoga in the woods, or Tai chi, or meditation. Take a picnic. Write a poem. Study plants. You can venture alone, or with a companion. In Japan, forest walking therapists are even available.
Appreciate the silence. One of the downsides of urban living is the constant noise. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a wooded area that’s free from human-produced sound. Silence is restorative, and a forest can have its own healing sound—rustling leaves, a trickle of water, birdsong. Spend a few quiet moments with a favorite tree. If nothing else, when we connect with nature we are reminded that we are part of a larger whole. And that, Li notes, can lead us to be less selfish and to think more of others.
Li’s book, which includes illustrations and a map of “40 Beautiful Forests Across the World,” is an invitation and an inspiration to take a walk in the woods, wherever you are.
VIDEO: What is Japanese Forest Bathing and How Can It Improve Your Health?
This includes physical, emotional, and interpersonal clutter which only serves to detract you from focusing on your personal growth. Self-care and self-love require the space and energy to expand yourself, improve yourself, and to reach higher levels of spiritual and psychological well-being. You can’t achieve this by allowing unnecessary excess in your life.
Clean the physical spaces where you live, because physical clutter can affect your mindset every day. An organized, tidy living space can do wonders for your mood and help you to complete tasks more quickly because everything has its place. Cut the toxic interactions with people you don’t need in your life which are only bringing you down. Stop allowing negative people to take up the space in your mind, heart and soul — they don’t belong there and the ruminations you’re engaging in over them are virtually useless. Refine your to-do list — stop trying to do a million things every day and instead, prioritize the main tasks which are most important to you and closest to what you value in life.
Remember, quality beats quantity when it comes to self-care, so invest only in relationships and friendships that make you happier, pursue only the goals that are true to your deepest desires, and save your energy and talent for those worthy of you.
Give yourself unconditional love every day, no matter what.
Unfortunately, no one can really give this to you except yourself. Human beings, while capable of extraordinary love and compassion for others, still love others conditionally. When I say unconditional love, I truly mean unconditional, unlimited, infinite love. It may seem impossible to achieve, but do the best you can to love yourself regardless of whatever circumstances you may have in your career, relationships, status, power, finances, and so forth.
I highly recommend reading the book Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It by Kamal Ravikant to understand how to enter into a mindset of self-love with a simple mantra. Loving yourself unconditionally also means loving all of you — your flaws, your strengths, your secrets, your weaknesses. Every part of you is important, unique, and worthy of love. When you give yourself unconditional love, you find yourself recognizing people who don’t give you the full acceptance you deserve, which makes it easier to clean out the interpersonal clutter as mentioned above.
Take care, holistically.
Creating a balance between work and play is essential to maintaining holistic self-care. Don’t focus just on one aspect of your life when it comes to self-care. Energize your body, nourish your spirit, and enlighten your mind. Meditation is important for your spiritual, emotional, and mental well-being. Yoga, Pilates, dance cardio, and running are great ways to get into shape and improve your mood. Eating mindfully will also help you to achieve optimal levels of energy and fitness while making your body less vulnerable to disease.
Writing, reading, and taking classes that interest you will keep your mind sharp, alert, and always learning. Don’t forget to maintain an active social life in the form of healthy relationships and friendships, as these are essential psychosocial resources that will serve as a crucial source of support and enhance your enjoyment of life.
Have high standards and stick to them.
Self-respect is crucial to self-care because it protects you from settling for less when you deserve the best. This is toxic to how you view yourself and how you allow others to treat you, your values and your boundaries. If you allow others to trample over your expectations constantly, you’re debasing your worth and chopping away at your self-esteem.
You might be afraid that if you have high standards for yourself, people might perceive you as a high-maintenance person and even abandon you in the process. Let them. It doesn’t matter — in fact, it’s probably a good thing that they do abandon you and reveal their true colors. At the end of the day, your opinion of yourself and what you deserve is all that truly matters in life.
Having high standards in your career and relationships protect you in the long-run from scammers, emotional predators, and exploiters from sucking you dry and leaving you drained. Think of things that fall below your standards as a bad business deal. You’re not getting what you need and want out of it, but the person on the other side is. It’s not worth the investment if someone else is benefiting from the positive return.
Pursue your true passions.
Life is too short to waste your energy by allocating resources into goals that are not truly your own. Caring for ourselves means remaining authentic and recognizing our true passions. Don’t be pressured into picking a certain career path just because society says it’s the right one for you; don’t always settle for crappy jobs just because they’ll pay the rent; don’t pursue a major just because of its financial rewards unless it’s something that really interests you.
Sometimes you will have to make do with what you have in order to survive, but be sure you’re still looking for ways to improve yourself and progress to something better and something that represents your true calling. For example, if you’re a waiter who dreams of writing the next big screenplay, continue working on it when you have the time. Setting aside time to pursue your dreams is important because these are things no one can take away from you. You own the right to all of your dreams and the ability to make them come to life.
The key is to still be practical, but also to be passionate. You were not meant to live this life doing just what is required to survive; you were meant to live life chasing your dreams. Don’t be afraid of failure, because failure is a learning experience that will strengthen you and prepare you to do better in the future.
Would you rather sit around and live in the regret of not knowing what would’ve happened if you had tried, or would you rather lead an exciting life by taking on risks and challenges that will ultimately lead you to what you were meant to do?
It’s okay to explore multiple interests and talents; you don’t have to limit yourself to one pursuit. However, if you do have that one dream that’s been pulling at your heartstrings, start chasing it now. If you want to write a book, start by writing a blog or start writing the chapters to the book. If you want to go back to school, start looking up different programs.
Take small steps today to start paving the path to tomorrow. Achieving long-term goals and big dreams are possible so long as you put the effort into making them happen. The most successful people I know are not just passive dreamers; they are active chasers who make an effort every day in order to accomplish their goals.
6. Minimize people-pleasing.
Nobody wins when it comes to people-pleasing, except a person on the receiving end that’s out to exploit you. Our tendency to people-please takes away from our authentic self, drains us of our energy, and deprives us of our ability to take care of ourselves in meaningful ways. By creating falsehoods in our relationships and interactions with others, we detract from who we were meant to be and pigeonhole ourselves into being who we’re not just to please others.
Be confident that who you are and the things you want, feel, and experience are completely valid. You don’t have to change to gain someone else’s approval; if someone disapproves of you, that’s okay. Rejection is not about your self-worth — it’s about another person’s wants, needs and preferences. Don’t see it as a selfish thing to honor your true self; it’s not selfish, it’s self-care and self-love.
7. Be mindful.
Many of us go through life mindlessly and this detracts from our experience of present joy. This mindlessness is exacerbated by our fast-paced, technologically advanced society. We are so absorbed in social media and the buzz of our phone that we forget to appreciate the everyday, simple pleasures that come our way. The humming of the birds, the color of the sky, the beauty of someone’s smile, the colorful and delicious food in front of us — these are all things we should be mindfully enjoying.
Being attentive, aware and alert to our surroundings and the present moment is vital to experiencing each moment of life more fully and enhancing its joy. So make sure to take at least a couple of hours each day where you release yourself from the distractions of technology and enjoy nature, be engaged with whomever you’re with, and immerse yourself in the conversation you’re having.
If you need help in doing this, start writing in a journal about the various things you observed during the day and how attentive you were to them. It takes practice to be more mindful in everyday life, but it’s a worthy practice since it greatly enhances your experience of life’s everyday moments.
Being grateful shouldn’t be set aside for the holidays; it should be a way of life. Think of gratitude as another important component of mindfulness and as a lifelong habit that should be practiced every day. It teaches you to be mindful of the things you take for granted every day, from basic things like your ability to see and walk to the bigger accomplishments like having a good job, access to education or a supportive network of friends.
Whether during times of strife or times of bliss, it’s helpful to write in a gratitude journal and take note of all the things you have in your life — remember, these are the same things that other people may be praying for.
9. Give back to the world you live in.
Remember how we talked about your unique talents and goals? This is one of the best incentives for exploring them. You are part of a larger world that needs your help. Whether it’s through volunteering, research, activism, teaching, there are a myriad of ways to give. Find creative and engaging ways to help others whenever possible, whether its sharing resources or investing your time and energy into a cause you care about.
You are here for a purpose and that purpose is tied to benefiting this world in positive ways. As you learn to love and care for yourself better, you’ll also have more positive energy, love and compassion to give to those around you. Embrace your destiny and change the world.
10. Honor and validate your feelings. All of them.
As someone who would qualify as a HSP (highly sensitive person), I know how tough it can be to honor and validate your feelings in a world that’s becoming highly desensitized to emotions and meaningful relationships. However, this last self-care commandment is perhaps the most important one of all. If you can’t honor and validate your own emotions, you’ll allow others to belittle and invalidate them, which means you’re permit toxic people to enter your life without thinking twice.
You’ll make yourself vulnerable to gaslighting, manipulation, coercion, and abuse. You’ll settle for less because you believe that your feelings don’t matter. Guess what? They do. You have to live with your emotions every day. That’s why it is so vital that you learn to honor them.
Validate every emotion you have, even if you think it’s inappropriate or “wrong” somehow. Emotions aren’t meant to be rational, by the way. They are meant to be signals that provide information about situations you’re experiencing or thoughts that you’re having. Honoring and validating your emotions means telling yourself, “It’s okay that I have these feelings. It’s valid that I have them. These emotions are telling me something about this experience. Now I have a choice on how to react to them.”
You don’t have to make your decisions based on your emotions alone, but you should consider them in the decision-making process when it comes to relationships, friendships and personal goals. Honor your feelings and you’ll honor yourself.
Did you know that one in five people these days are affected by mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression? These days many of us are also struggling with stress and overwhelm as the pace and demands of life increase.
I believe now more than ever we all need to commit to making our mental health a priority.
In honour of World Mental Health Day, here are seven proven tips that will improve your mental health and boost your well being.
1. EXERCISE REGULARLY
It’s well known that exercise is important for keeping our bodies healthy, but did you know that exercise is also vital for good mental health? Research shows that people who exercise regularly have better mental health, reduced risk of developing mental illness and greater emotional well being too.
HOW EXERCISE BOOSTS YOUR MENTAL HEALTH
Exercise increases your energy levels both mentally and physically.
Exercise helps you sleep better, and good sleep helps regulate your emotions.
Exercise can improve confidence and self-esteem as you achieve a healthy goal and take care of yourself.
Exercise changes hormones and chemicals in the brain in mood boosting ways including an ‘endorphin rush’ that increases feelings of calm and happiness as well as improving focus and memory.
Physical activity can be an outlet for irritation, frustration and bad moods.
Exercise is a powerful way to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. For example research suggests exercise can be as effective as medication or speaking to a psychologist for overcoming mild depression.
THINK ABOUT STARTING SMALL
Keeping physically active doesn’t have to mean working out at the gym, it can be simply going for a walk in the park. Experts advise that at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise at least five days a week is ideal. If you’re not currently exercising why not start small with a goal that feels immediately achievable – like just 5 to 10 minutes a day. Start small and you can build up from there. This is often the best way to form new habits.
2. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS
Mindfulness (a form of meditative awareness) involves training our attention and learning to have a more wise and skillful relationship with our own minds. Mindfulness teaches us to unhook from unhelpful and unproductive thought patterns and behaviours. It involves learning to steady our awareness in the present moment rather than getting lost in our heads worrying, ruminating about problems or locked into self-criticism or negative judgements.
RESEARCH SHOWS THAT MINDFULNESS…
Reduces stress, depression and anxiety
Increases stress resilience
Brings feelings of peace and inner calm
Improves overall sense of well being and life satisfaction
3. EAT A HEALTHY DIET
What we eat affects how we feel. If you’ve ever watched how quickly sugar can have an effect on the mood of small children (and adults too) or if you’ve ever felt dull and tired after a heavy lunch of carbs you’ll have seen and felt the effects that foods we choose to eat can have.
But it’s not just sugar and heavy carbs. All kinds of foods can also have short-term as well as long-lasting effects on your mental health. Your body needs a mix of nutrients and minerals to function well, so making sure you’re eating a good diet is truly vital for mental health.
A HEALTHY DIET INCLUDES
A variety of fresh vegetables and fruits
Nuts and seeds
A good source of protein, from either fish meats (from good sources) or plant-based
Regular water consumption 6- 8 glasses per day
Potentially dairy, grains and complex carbohydrates like beans, lentils, pumpkin etc
TRY TO LIMIT
How much caffeine you drink
How much sugar is in your diet
Taking in a lot of intoxicants
Things you are intolerant or allergic to
4. DRINK IN MODERATION
Many people who overindulge in drinking alcohol (or other substances) commonly do it to change their mood. Although it may numb or overcome a difficult feeling for a while, the effects are short-lived. Alcohol doesn’t deal with the causes of difficult feelings or solve our problems. It makes them worse. There are much healthier ways of dealing with difficult feelings including the other ones listed in this post.
Occasional drinking in moderation is quite healthy and enjoyable for most people. As a useful guide to drinking in moderation, keep in mind that the daily alcohol limit recommended by alcohol.gov.au is no more than two standard drinks per day.
5. PRACTICE SELF-COMPASSION
Do you have a harsh inner critic? It’s common to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves but research shows this habit of self-criticism comes at a price: It makes us lose confidence, feel unhappy with our lives and even leads to depression and anxiety.
Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves more kindly and studies show it makes us happier and gives us better overall emotional well being (as well as a whole host of other benefits too).
In a report published by three German psychologists, which examined 79 studies on the link between self-compassion and well-being, they reached this conclusion: People who are kinder to themselves tend to be happier.
Kristin Neff, who has been a pioneer in the study of self-compassion says, “With self-compassion, we give ourselves the same kindness and care we’d give to a good friend.”
We humans are social animals. We crave to feel connected and supported and to feel valued by others. Studies have shown that social connection is a vital key to good mental health.
Good social connection has even been linked to having a longer life. In one study on an elderly population people with strong social and community ties were two to three times less likely to die during the nine-year study.
Sometimes social connection can be a heart-to-heart talk over coffee but sometimes it can be a short phone call, or an email or message. Make sure to make time to connect with the loved ones in your life on a regular basis.
If you feel your current social life isn’t giving you enough connection, you can take steps to form new ones such as
Enroll in a class or hobby that interests you. You’ll be able to connect with others who share a common interest as well as getting out there and trying something new.
Join a book club, hiking club or other group such a knitting, meditation groups, fitness groups, community gardens or mothers groups.
Try volunteer work. Not only will you bond with other volunteers and recipients but helping others gives you that warm fuzzy feeling too.
Reach out and connect to people. Ask people out for coffees, dinners or to events like movies or bands. Try to get out and meet new people.
7. DO SOMETHING YOU LOVE
What activities do you love doing just for the fun of it? You know the ones you really lose yourself in? Take some time each day to do things you love and just enjoy yourself.
It could be engaging in a hobby like music, art, gardening or going hiking or riding and bike. It could be just having a cup of tea in the sun. Take some each week (or even each day) to just enjoy life and let go of all your cares and worries for a while. Research also shows that it improves confidence and self esteem as well as improving our overall sense of well being.
“Human beings are experts at showing up for the demands of the world. We keep driving forward—for our boss, our parents, our partners, or even ourselves—trying to live up to what’s expected of us, as defined by those around us.
Until suddenly, one day, we break.
Experiencing a breakdown can be inconvenient, uncomfortable, and even frightening, but it comes with an important message. In this video from School of Life, philosopher Alain de Botton explains how breakdowns provide you with an opportunity to learn what you really need from life.” Continue reading the article HERE