How Does Mindfulness Reduce Stress?

Mindfulness helps relieve stress

If you experience stress, you likely also experience other symptoms such as irritability, anger, moodiness, hyperactivity, or anxiety. It's no wonder life feels so overwhelming and out of control when there is a storm of negative feelings brewing in your mind.

The good news? Mindfulness can help. The goal of mindfulness is not to stop the storm but to work with it so you can get back in touch with the present moment. Mindfulness also gives you more choices on how you want to respond to outside stimuli.

What is mindfulness?

The term refers to the practice of being aware and present in life, although the details of being mindful may differ from person to person. Yet the basic tenets remain the same. Mindfulness is often described as an awareness of, and training in how to be more attentive. This is a skill that helps you be more aware of each moment so that you can truly experience it. 

So then, you create awareness by directing focus and bringing attention to the sensations in the present moment. Much of what causes stress and anxiety is worry. Living in the present helps you distance your mind from worry. It teaches you to look at life and situations from a different perspective.

Science says...

There's enough evidence to support the concept of mindfulness easing stress. That's why mental health therapists can confidently use mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to treat mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. The goal of cognitive therapy is to identify and change negative and unhelpful thinking patterns that may be aggravating various areas of your life. MBCT combines the principles of cognitive therapy with mindfulness meditation.

Multiple high-quality studies done on a group of patients with vascular disease show mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can reduce stress and relive symptoms of anxiety and depression. Having a physical illness creates several challenges. Mindfulness combined with cognitive therapy helps patients with these physical challenges to redirect their negative thoughts. Additionally, mindfulness helps people with mental and physical challenges adopt coping skills so they ruminate and worry less.

Tuning into the present

This is a simple concept but hard to master. To be mindful, you have to tune in and notice what's happening moment by moment. Simply being present in the here and now can help you gain insight into your reactions and choices and let you think more clearly about what you want or need. This is particularly important when you feel stressed. The storm of negative emotions can be difficult to handle if you don't know how to respond to them in a mindful way. The key is to choose calmness over anger; kindness over irritation.

One approach is to engage in mindfulness meditation. By doing this, you learn to regulate your emotions and accept them without judgment or resistance. In a setting of mindfulness, you realise such emotions, including worry, anxiety, and depression, are temporary. So, then, you learn to accept them without judgment. Mindfulness meditation has a calming effect on the mind and body, too.

Some people who have severe depression or anxiety may benefit from a counsellor's guidance in using mindfulness-based cognitive therapy rather than trying to learn on their own.

Seeing the bigger picture

Living in the present can positively impact how you relate to others, and how you judge yourself. With mindfulness, you learn to see the bigger picture: to appreciate the life you have and make changes when appropriate. It also teaches you to better deal with stress. People who practice mindfulness often notice that even their physical health improves. 

Practicing this perspective is vital in today's society where stress can be ubiquitous. When it gets out of control or becomes a habitual way of responding, stress can be as damaging and as harmful as any physical illness. Lead a mindful life to nip harmful stress in the bud. It may take a lot of practice, and may not be easy to achieve. But it's worth the effort once you arrive at the Zen-like level of consciousness brought about by mindfulness. 

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