What is Mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and environment seen through a non-judgmental, kind and nurturing lens.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the moment-to-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surroundings, seen through a non-judgemental, nurturing lens. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re experiencing in the present moment rather than ruminating on the past or time travelling into the future.

Mindfulness is a quality we all naturally possess, we often just need to learn how to access it, luckily this is a teachable skill that anyone can learn.

Mindfulness is a form of attention training which helps us tap into our inner calmness and focus and is usually taught in group settings over 8-weekly sessions. These 8-week courses include training in and practicing a series of mindfulness techniques. Some are formal meditation practices like the body scan, mindfulness of breath, mindful eating and mindful movement and some are informal practices such as learning to apply mindfulness to everyday activities like showering or brushing your teeth.

Many hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have shown that practising mindfulness, even for just a few weeks can bring about a variety of physical, psychological and social benefits (see the list below for some key research papers.

With practice the following shifts begin to happen.

Mindfulness for Stress 

These are certainly strange and unsettling times. In the last three years alone, the way we live has changed dramatically. Many of us have suffered great losses, whether that be the loss of loved ones, the loss of livelihoods or security or just the familiarity of life as we knew it.

As a result, many of us are thought to be living with psychological distress and extreme levels of stress and anxiety.

Whilst fear is a normal response to the uncertainty we are experiencing, we now know that the damage caused by chronic (long-term) anxiety and stress includes a whole host of physical problems including an increased risk of a heart attack, cancer, stroke, weight gain, memory loss, chronic fatigue syndrome as well as digestive and sleep problems, and is also known to induce or exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety-related disorders. 

In response, health care professionals are increasingly recommending mindfulness practice to help combat stress, depression, and anxiety.

Whilst not all stress is bad, in fact in small doses it can be a great motivator especially when the stress is short term and has a purpose, for example the stress leading up to a wedding or a job interview.  In the appropriate situations, stress can be desirable If you are confronted by a very challenging situation you need stress, which is when your body releases neuropeptides and triggers what scientists call a fight or flight response and this can drive positive and powerful action.

Stress becomes a problem when we become overloaded with these fight or flight chemicals. Your body can’t tell the difference between what is real here and now and what is imagined. Much of your stress isn’t caused by what is really happening here and now but is caused by what is going on in your head; thinking about the awful things that might happen, running nightmare scenarios or dealing with mind-created problems which haven’t happened yet or in the words of Mark Twain “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” 

Here’s how it works – Something triggers the anxiety and your thinking starts to worry, the anxious thoughts cause your body to create stress chemicals which in turn add to the stress, which in turn make the thoughts more anxious and cause more stress. It’s a vicious circle that can totally ruin your quality of life, it doesn’t just make you miserable it damages your health too. The human body is not designed to be under constant stress, it builds up in the cellular memory, weakens the immune system and can cause illness and disease. Researchers are now estimating that up to 90% of physical illnesses are in some way stress-related. 

Studies have shown that practising mindfulness, even for just a few short weeks, can reduce stress and a variety of psychological, physical and social benefits. Below are some of these benefits and a list of key research papers for further reading. If you are struggling with stress and are looking for solutions, here is a link to my next Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course and how to work with me 1:1.

Benefits of Mindfulness

These benefits are backed by rigorous scientific research, see below for further reading and links to relevant research.

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Reduces stress levels and increases our ability to respond to stressors instead of habitually reacting

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Relieves the symptoms of a range of anxiety disorders including social anxiety

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Helps reduce the likelihood of the re-occurrence of depression

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Relieves the symptoms of a range of anxiety disorders including social anxiety

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Boosts our immune system’s ability to fight off illness

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Helps us become aware of, and manage our emotions more effectively

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Lowers our heart rate and blood pressure which is thought to reduce the risk of heart attacks

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Helps us become aware of and manage our emotions more effectively

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Increases our sense of wellbeing

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Helps us become aware of our negative habits and helps us develop more positive ones

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Re-wires our brains (neuroplasticity) in areas linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation and empathy

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Improves our relationships and reduces feelings of loneliness

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Enhances our creativity and problem solving skills

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Re-wires our brains (neuroplasticity) in areas linked to learning, memory, emotion regulation and empathy

Key Research Papers
  • The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848393/
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction for stress management in healthy people: a review and meta-analysis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19432513/
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta-analysis https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15256293/
  • Meditation, mindfulness and executive control: the importance of emotional acceptance and brain-based performance monitoring https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22507824/
  • Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Emotion Regulation in Social Anxiety Disorder https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4203918/
  • Now Does Mindfulness Meditation Work? Proposing Mechanisms of Action From a Conceptual and Neural Perspective https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1745691611419671
  • Neural correlates of attentional expertise in long-term meditation practitioners https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.0606552104
  • Stepping out of history: Mindfulness improves insight problem solving https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22483682/
  • Meditate to create: The Impact of  Focused attention and Open-monitoring meditation on Convergent and Divergent Thinking https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3328799/
  • Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. Kabat-Zinn J, Massion AO, Kristeller J, Peterson LG, Fletcher KE, Pbert L, Lenderking WR, Santorelli SF. Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Jul;149(7):936-43. doi: 10.1176/ajp.149.7.936. PMID: 1609875.
  • Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006. Epub 2010 Nov 10. PMID: 21071182; PMCID: PMC3004979.
  • The efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as a public mental health intervention for adults with mild to moderate depressive symptomatology: a randomized controlled trial. Pots WT, Meulenbeek PA, Veehof MM, Klungers J, Bohlmeijer ET.PLoS One. 2014 Oct 15;9(10):e109789. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0109789. PMID: 25333885; PMCID: PMC4198116.
  • Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention. MacLean KA, Ferrer E, Aichele SR, Bridwell DA, Zanesco AP, Jacobs TL, King BG, Rosenberg EL, Sahdra BK, Shaver PR, Wallace BA, Mangun GR, Saron CD.Psychol Sci. 2010 Jun;21(6):829-39. doi: 10.1177/0956797610371339. Epub 2010 May 11. PMID: 20483826; PMCID: PMC3132583.

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