Mindfulness is not a fad or a celebrity gimmick; it’s a real, proven technique with many health benefits. It’s been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, improve sleep quality, increase gratitude and help you become less reactive in challenging situations.
It’s a form of meditation that involves actively paying attention to your thoughts, feelings and sensations. It’s a way of living in the present moment, without judgment or expectation, and letting your thoughts pass through your mind like clouds on a windy day.
Practicing mindfulness can feel difficult at first. Your mind may wander to the past or future, or it might crowd out your current experience with stories and worries that have nothing to do with what is actually happening in the moment. This is why mindfulness takes practice, and it can be helpful to work with a mental health professional who can teach you to recognize when your mind has wandered and bring you back to the present.
If you want to start practicing mindfulness, there are lots of resources online. You can try simple things like focusing on your breath, doing a body scan (focussing on the different parts of your body one at a time), or journaling. Alternatively, you can do sensory exercises—noticing the feel of your clothes against your skin or the sound of a song on the radio.
Mindfulness can also make you more empathetic toward other people’s emotions and struggles. A recent study found that participants who regularly practiced mindfulness were more likely to feel a sense of connection with others and more willing to help those in need. This is because mindful people are better at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, and can understand and relate to their feelings.
Being mindful can also make you more creative. A study from the Netherlands found that mindful people were more able to generate new ideas and products than those who weren’t. In addition, being in a mindful state can lead to “innie-outie” moments—when we notice something novel about an object or situation, and allow it to trigger new associations.
A 2018 meta-study found that mindfulness programs were associated with a reduction in emotional exhaustion, psychological distress and job burnout. In addition, it was linked to increased feelings of personal accomplishment, self-compassion and quality of sleep.
While mindfulness has plenty of pros, it can be hard for some people to get started. If you are struggling to find a regular practice, it might be helpful to speak with a trauma-informed therapist. A therapist with this training can help you navigate your emotions, and teach you techniques to deal with discomfort and distress that might arise while you’re practicing mindfulness. It’s important to remember that mindful practices can also be harmful if used with maladaptive coping skills, or in a group setting that encourages a sense of entitlement and superiority. This can be especially true if you’re using mindfulness to cope with PTSD or other traumatic experiences..