Mindfulness is a practice of being present in the moment and fully engaged in your surroundings, without judgment or distraction. It involves paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, and accepting them without trying to change them. Mounting evidence from several studies has shown that practicing mindfulness strengthens cognitive abilities to neutralize the impact stress has on our mental well-being. Here are some reasons how mindfulness reduces stress.
1. Mindfulness impacts brain activity
Practicing mindfulness lowers brain activity in the amygdala, an area associated with the flight or fight, stress response. In doing so, the background levels of stress are reduced. The phenomenon was more pronounced in mindfulness meditation where research using MRI scans found after 8 weeks of the practice, the amygdala appeared to shrink. Simultaneously, the prefrontal cortex, an area associated with higher cognitive function such as concentration, focus and awareness became thicker. Stress and anxiety have been found to reduce the thickness of the prefrontal cortex.
2. Mindfulness Reduces Stress Hormones
When we experience stress, our body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can lead to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and other physical symptoms. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the levels of these stress hormones, helping to calm the body and reduce the physical symptoms of stress.
3. Makes us Less Reactive
We often tend to react impulsively during stress saying or doing things we might regret later. This is because the negativity associated with stress clouds our focus, and thinking, overwhelming us with emotions. Mindfulness helps us with emotional regulation, it enables us to pause and think, to reflect on our actions, thoughts and words in order respond wisely. Mindfulness prevents us from impulsive reaction and activates our “wise mind” to respond instead.
To achieve this, we can practice mindful breathing in a situation to become aware of the present moment. We can then calm ourselves and analyze the situation to gain more mental clarity. This helps in forming a better and more positive response.
4. Improves Mood
One of the ways how mindfulness reduces stress is improving mood. Stress can often lead to negative thoughts and emotions, such as anxiety, depression, and irritability. Mindfulness can help improve mood by increasing positive emotions, such as joy, gratitude, and compassion. By focusing on the present moment and accepting our thoughts and emotions without judgment, we can learn to respond to stress in a more positive and productive way.
5. Enhances Cognitive Flexibility
Cognitive flexibility refers to our ability to adapt to new situations and change our thought patterns. This can be helpful in managing stress, as it allows us to think more creatively and find solutions to problems. Mindfulness has been shown to enhance cognitive flexibility by increasing awareness of our thoughts and emotions, and allowing us to view them from a different perspective.
6. Mindfulness Builds Inner Strength
Mindfulness helps build inner mental strength against stress to face the storm with a calmer disposition. Despite life’s challenges, mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises help us anchor and ground ourselves creating an opportunity to explore a situation to think what to do next. Developing our mindfulness makes us more resilient to life’s challenges giving us a broader perspective to see situation with more clarity. It helps us resort to more self-care and self-compassion, making us physically and mentally stronger and healthier to face tough situations in life.
7. Improves Overall Well-Being
Mindfulness has been shown to have a wide range of benefits for overall well-being. It can help to improve sleep quality, reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, and increase feelings of happiness and contentment. By practicing mindfulness regularly, we can cultivate a greater sense of inner peace which can help us to cope with stress in our daily lives.
8. Builds Awareness
Mindfulness makes us more aware of our existense in every passing moment in life. It induces a heightened awareness of environment including our sensations. It enables us to become aware of our thoughts both negative and positive accepting them without judgement which means your body doesn’t initiate an impulsive stress response immediately. In mindfulness, we become aware of our senses which enables us to notice impending stress and pain earlier to take appropriate action.
9. It Relaxes
Mindfulness reduces stress and activates our “being” mode of mind, associated with relaxation. Alternately, the “doing” mode of our mind is associated with action and the stress response.
10. Prevents Conflict and Induces Compassion
Mindfulness doesn’t just make us aware of our own surroundings and environment, it makes us aware of others too. With an increase in emotional intelligence and maturity, we are less compelled to react to others. Moreover, our levels of care and compassion increases calming us further and preventing a negative stress response.
11. Improves Focus
Mindfulness improves focus and helps us be more efficient at work. The heightened sense of wellbeing and emotional security helps us achieve the “zone of flow” as described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
12. It Changes Perspective
Mindfulness changes our perspective towards stress. Rather than be intimidated by it, mindfulness helps us look beyond the consequences of stress. It shows us stress itself as a larger picture. This works like an extra gear to take on stress and manage it more efficiently allowing it the least impact on body and mind.
Mindfulness reduces stress but it does so much more than that. It is a powerful tool to promote overall well-being. Moreover, by reducing stress hormones, improving mood, and enhancing cognitive flexibility, mindfulness can help us to live happier, healthier lives.