Does Mindfulness Work?
Despite the concept of mindfulness being practiced for thousands of years, we have only really seen the spotlight intensify since 2017. Since then, online searches related to mindfulness have remained consistent – apart from annual dips throughout December, the irony here being that this is the most likely month that stress and anxiety peaks.
With April marked as Stress Awareness Month, it is safe to say that the focus will remain on mindfulness, with a view of relieving the public’s heightened mental health.
What is mindfulness?
Derived from Buddhism, mindfulness understandably became popular in the west due to our ever-on, interconnected lifestyle that left people consistently tapped into communication but void of feelings of wellbeing and contentedness.
Mindfulness is the concept, not to mention ability, of being fully present and engaged in the moment. Of acknowledging an inner awareness and remaining aware of our conscious thoughts and emotions, not to mention our bodies unconscious responses, our actions, environment and surroundings.
When you take a moment to consider this, ‘interconnected’ takes on a whole new dimension. Rather than being interconnected with devices and methods of external communication, mindfulness urges us to interconnect with ourselves and our surroundings.
How does mindfulness work?
The body has a physical response to mindfulness practices. MRI scans have shown that brain activity alters, with the density of neurons changing, reducing in the amygdala, responsible for responding to threat and fear, yet increasing the density of neurons in the pre-frontal cortex, a region of the brain that contributes to regulating emotions.
Research also shows that engaging in mindfulness strengthens the activity between these two brain regions, enabling us to become more aware of our emotional responses, allowing us to apply logic and reason, and reducing the way we react with fear induced response.
What are the benefits of mindfulness?
To understand why mindfulness is so important, it is critical to consider the variety of benefits that it induces.
It is widely agreed and supported by much research, that mindfulness can have a profound impact on the symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety. Some doctors are even beginning to recommend meditation and mindfulness to supplement patients’ therapy or medication.
Through a reduced level of stress hormones produced instinctively, the mind and body are more present and able to approach each situation from a different, calmer perspective.
Through mental resilience and clarity of mind, individuals feel more tranquil and relaxed with improved focus.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the emotional state of another individual, adopting their perspective to gain such an understanding.
The ability to be empathetic requires both cognitive and ‘affective’ processes, by practicing mindfulness techniques that strengthen brain activity, influencing you be become more present, with heightened awareness, you will in turn, be able to acknowledge the emotional state of others and seek to understand the reason for their emotion.
Creativity is now recognised as a key transferrable skill, lending itself to a variety of tasks and situations.
Mindfulness switches on your divergent thinking, a spontaneous, non-linear way of thinking that enables and empowers the individuals to approach tasks and barriers from a different perspective, often finding new opportunities and ways to solve problems. Research by Erasmus University in Rotterdam has shown that groups that practice mindfulness meditation prior to ideation sessions generated a 22% wider range of ideas.
Further to this, mindfulness practices also instil confidence and courage, encouraging the individual to be fearless in their thinking and decisions they come too.
In actively working to become more present and aware of each moment, you become aware of how to react and your contribution to the moment, surroundings and environment.
The ability to acknowledge our own feelings and reactions doesn’t come naturally to many of us and it takes the regular practice of mindfulness to turn your attention inwards, seeing yourself in an honest light.
There is evidence that suggests mindfulness practices contribute to the working memory and enhanced attentional control. This in turn leads to us to be able to retain focus, and be more successful when it comes to problem solving and decision making, as our clarity of mind, and confidence improves.
As mindfulness is largely associated with the regulation of emotions and greater empathy and self-awareness, it is possible that relationships are strengthened, contributing to improved teamwork, communications and collaboration.
When it comes to the workplace, mindfulness can have an extremely positive impact. Whether practiced individually, or as a group, mindfulness techniques improve feelings pf contentedness, purpose and motivation, leading to highly collaborative, engaged and productive employees and a workforce that strive to understand and support each other.
To further explore how I can aid you in fostering a culture of mindfulness, please contact me today about Mindfulness at work training.