Americans have begun taking a more active role in their health over the past several decades, and today, most of us realize that maintaining overall health requires a holistic approach. This includes nurturing our emotional and mental well-being. In fact, we now know that mental health is just as important as maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol, or weight in the big picture of health.
There are many facets to this, and health care professionals are increasingly acknowledging the integral role mindfulness plays in sound mental health. Mindfulness — which has Buddhist origins dating back 2,500 years — is the practice of living in the present moment, or focusing on the here and now. It uses the acknowledgement and acceptance of our feelings as a therapeutic technique.
The practice of mindfulness takes into account not only thoughts and feelings, but even the body sensations we experience in a given moment. For example, if you were practicing mindfulness while eating, you would pay special attention to every aspect of the food, including flavors, smells, and textures.
The idea is to free your mind from external distractions to truly be in the moment, no matter what you’re doing. As you become more mindful, you can extend this practice to all areas of your life to get more in tune with yourself and those around you. Ultimately, the goal is to experience more enjoyment and fulfillment from every aspect of your life.
How does mindfulness improve mental health?
So how does being more mindful translate to better mental health overall? Besides the obvious benefits of increased enjoyment and fulfillment, scientific research has proven that mindfulness has many other mental health benefits as well. Mindfulness can improve concentration, reduce stress, help balance emotions, and increase empathy and patience with others. It has also been shown to decrease depression, reduce anxiety, and even to mitigate some of the negative effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mindfulness also improves our mental health by increasing our acceptance of everyday situations. Over time, the practice teaches us to fully allow and embrace thoughts and feelings — even the uncomfortable ones — rather than judging or rejecting them.
On a more scientific note, research has shown that mindfulness can increase gray matter and even support the growth of new neural pathways in our brains. This “rewiring” of the brain enables us to find new and better ways to handle tasks, cope with stress, and manage our emotions.
How does mindfulness work?
Scientists have proven that mindfulness incorporates a number of neuropsychological processes that result in a meditative state of self-awareness. There is no right or wrong way to achieve this state of mindfulness, but Harvard Health experts recommend a few ways to get started, including focusing on:
- Basic meditation
- Body sensations
- Sensory sensations
- Urge/craving awareness and management
While it’s not necessarily realistic to be mindful all the time, there are huge benefits to be realized by practicing mindfulness for even just a few minutes each day. Start by being mindful during one activity each day, such as while you’re eating dinner, or tucking your children in at night. Little by little, you can increase this practice to reap the greatest benefit. There is some mental health benefit to be realized from mindfulness no matter how often you are able to practice it. Ultimately, the goal is to experience more enjoyment out of every aspect of your life.
We all strive to find different ways to keep our minds and bodies healthy, and mindfulness is another item in our self-care tool bag that can help us to do so. Just as brushing and flossing our teeth, working out, or anything else we make a part of our daily wellness routine, we can benefit greatly by making time for habits that improve our mental health as well.
By practicing mindfulness, you may soon find that you are more relaxed, less stressed and more in tune and appreciative of the things and people in your life. For other wellness tips, check out the Dental Solutions blog. Here we provide overall health and wellness support and education.