Mindfulness and Your Brain
Mindfulness and Your Brain
Mindfulness is a conscious thought process of focusing on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's emotions, thoughts, and sensations. This helps us recognize habits and patterns of behavior that aren’t in our best interests.
Practicing mindfulness changes how our brains process information.
Scans of the brain after a mindfulness program show greater activation of areas associated with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion, and introspection, as well as lower activation in areas associated with stress.
Mindfulness is an important tool to help us to recognize habits and patterns of behavior. Once we are aware of our emotions, thoughts, and sensations in stressful situations, we can better choose how to respond—rather than react—to sources of stress.
Here are a few common habits that mindfulness can help you recognize, and do something about:
Overeating or not choosing healthy foods.
Awareness of rapid or shallow breathing during different situations.
What you sound like and how you use body language during difficult conversations.
How tight you are holding the steering wheel when driving.
Holding tension in the body including grinding your teeth, hunching your shoulders, tightening your stomach.
Mindfulness is something that grows when you practice it regularly. You can learn ways to practice and develop mindfulness by enrolling in an app-based program, listening to guided audio, or attending a class. Mindfulness practices include activities such as deep breathing, yoga, meditation, thoughtfully experiencing your environment or meal, paying attention to your senses, and more.
The benefits of improved thinking and lowered stress can come from practicing mindfulness activities for as little as 10 minutes a day.
You may feel like you don’t have time to practice. Let’s examine some barriers and discuss ways to manage them to ensure that you can stick with your goal of practicing mindfulness.
Barrier 1: Time
Block out a time on your calendar for practicing mindfulness. Try to set it for a window when you know you will be able to follow through. If it involves meditation, consider the location you will use and be realistic about how long you will take to get to and from it. If it involves a mindful walk, determine the path you will take beforehand and consider how you can remain focused on that path. If possible, be consistent with the timing and work it into a daily routine. Often, practicing mindfulness can help you manage your sense of urgency and regain a sense of control over your day, resulting in greater productivity with lower stress.
Barrier 2: Racing thoughts
Mindfulness takes practice! Becoming more mindful is an act of repeated attempts at allowing yourself to focus on the present moment. This is why using natural patterns like breathing works well—it gives your mind something to focus on but without distracting emotions or thoughts attached to it.
Set yourself up for success by consciously removing distractions such as your phone, TV, computer, and video games, as well as any other external sources of noise when you do a mindfulness exercise.
Barrier 3: Progress is not fast enough
Mindfulness is a practice, not a goal. There is no way to win or lose at it and pushing for progress is likely to be counterproductive. Remember that this is about the journey and not the destination.
Every mindful moment you incorporate in your day can make a difference in reducing your stress!