I’m going to be 100% honest – when I was first introduced to mindfulness as an angry, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do teenager, I thought it was a load of shit.
I was your stereotypical angsty 16-year old, convinced that my depression was incurable and I was stuck this way forever ‘just because’. CAT couldn’t cure me. CBT couldn’t cure me. Medication seemed to have no effect whatsoever and how on earth was I going to get better by staring at my wall and breathing deeply for five minutes every day?
Luckily, I discovered that mindfulness is so much more than that! There are numerous benefits of mindfulness for mental health, and it is now one of my most effective depression-kicking activities!
As someone who suffers from multiple mental health illnesses, mindfulness is a great way for me to identify my chaotic thoughts and regain some control over them.
Before we explore the benefits of mindfulness for mental health wellness, let’s explore what mindfulness actually is.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the psychological practise of observing your thoughts without judgement or reaction. It is the state of being fully aware and immersed in the present, taking the time to appreciate the intricacy of our senses and the inner workings of our minds.
“Mindfulness is not about controlling our thoughts, but rather controlling how we perceive and react to them”
When we practise mindfulness, we are not trying to push away our thoughts or achieve an ethereal state of thoughtlessness. On the contrary, mindfulness encourages us to be self-aware and observational of not only our thoughts, but our bodies as well.
It helps to clear our minds and tune our senses, promoting internal balance and harmony while opening our eyes to the simple, immediate beauty in the world around us.
What Are The Benefits of Mindfulness For Mental Health and Wellness?
As humans, we spend so much time locked inside of our own heads that we rarely stop to appreciate the present.
When you suffer from mental health conditions like depression or anxiety, the bad habit of obsessive overthinking can be particularly detrimental to your mental health. We are prone to the subconscious rumination of our negative thoughts, constantly reliving past mistakes or pre-living future worries. Of course, this only makes our mood worse as it leaves us stuck in negative thought loops.
Mindfulness Gives Us More Control Over How Our Thoughts Affect Our Emotions
Remember, mindfulness isn’t about pushing away your negative thoughts. It is about observing them, accepting them, and then letting them go
When we become mindfully self-aware of our thoughts, we gain more control over the level of influence that they have over our emotions. Being able to recognise your thoughts as just thoughts lessens their power over you, enabling you to respond to them more rationally.
In the case of depression, mindfulness can significantly reduce the impact that depressive thoughts have on emotions. Even the darkest of thoughts (like suicidal ideation), can be regulated and responded to more positively with the help of mindfulness. One study even found that in chronically depressed/suicidal participants, mindfulness was a more effective treatment than many commonly-used therapies.
Read more about how to stop negative thoughts and rumination here.
Mindfulness Can Calm And Reduce Anxiety
Studies have proven that mindfulness-based stress reduction can significantly reduce anxiety.
Anxiety-induced overthinking is detrimental to our mental health because we tend to get swallowed up by our anxious thoughts, ruminating deeper and deeper until it can feel as though there is no way out.
Mindfulness gives us access to an escape from overwhelming thoughts. Rather than ruminate, we can learn to take a step back and acknowledge anxious thoughts as just that – thoughts.
Like all thoughts, they come and go. Mindfulness teaches you to observe these thoughts in an objective way before turning your attention back to the present moment.
Also, if you are prone to panic attacks then mindfulness is a natural body relaxant that can soothe uncomfortable physical symptoms.
Mindfulness Helps With Insomnia
Not sleeping enough can negatively impact your mental health. Poor-quality sleep impairs cognitive functioning which can make it harder for you to fight off depressed or negative thoughts.
Practising mindfulness before bed is an excellent way of relaxing the mind to sleep. Also, incorporating mindfulness into your early morning routine can increase your concentration and memory throughout the day – making you so super-productive that you’re bound to fall asleep earlier!
Mindfulness Promotes Self-Compassion, Awareness and Discovery
Mindfulness is a form of self-care. It allows us to take some time out to focus on ourselves, in turn enabling a deeper, enlightened connection to the self.
Where our thoughts go when our mind wonders can say a lot about our mental and emotional processes. It’s so important for our mental wellbeing that we are self-aware and alert to our wondering thoughts because it helps us to identify and transform unhealthy coping mechanisms and destructive bad habits.
We can then turn them into positive, healthy habits and coping strategies.
Mindfulness Relieves Stress And Worry
The relief of stress and worry is one of the most widely-recognised benefits of mindfulness for mental health and wellness.
Stress is inevitable for even the most mindful of people. If we let it, stress can trigger a host of physical and mental symptoms including racing thoughts, rumination and burn-out. However, mindfulness not only helps to relieve immediate stress, but it can change the way that we react to future stressors and reduce our day-to-day stress levels.
This is because mindfulness allows us to take a step back from stressful thoughts and approach them in a rational, productive way. Being present in the moment also helps us to refocus our minds, which is great for combatting unproductive worry.
How To Practise Mindfulness
There are two main ways to practise mindfulness.
Mindful meditation is a formal, focused approach to mindfulness. It involves sitting in a quiet, comfortable place to focus on the present moment, paying close attention to your breathing and body sensations.
Particularly in the beginning, you will probably find that your mind wanders a lot. This is OK – remember, mindfulness is not about emptying your mind of thoughts. It is about quietly observing your thoughts without reaction or judgement.
If your mind starts thinking about something stressful, don’t force the thought away. Instead, acknowledge and accept its presence before gently refocusing your attention back onto the present moment.
If you want to try mindful meditation, The Breck Life has an amazing article on how to create a space for mindfulness in your home.
Practising mindfulness while doing everyday activities is a highly effective way of strengthening focus, cognitive function and emotional control. It is the practise of focusing on the task at hand; the sensations, sounds and smells around you rather than the musings in your head. It allows you to become fully immersed in your current activity.
Mindful showering – This is my favourite time to practise mindfulness! Focus on the temperature and pressure of the water on your skin, the silkiness of the soap between your fingers and the steady sound of the shower as you wash the day (or the night) away.
Mindful eating – Pay attention to the smells and textures of the food you’re eating, focusing on the way it feels on your tongue and how your taste buds react to it. Is it spicy? Salty? Sweet? You can do the same with drinks too – watch the wisps of steam that float out of your coffee mug or acknowledge the shudder of your body as you sip an ice-cold glass of water.
Mindful walking or exercising – Our minds are prone to wandering while we walk, which is probably why many of us turn to music for an escape. Practise mindful exercising instead by focusing on your movements with a moment-by-moment awareness. The steady drum of your heart, the breeze of the wind and the lightness (or heaviness) in your step can really tune you into the present moment.
Mindful colouring – Colouring is a popular, highly effective mindful activity with great calming benefits! Grab yourself a mandala adult colouring book and lose yourself to colours and shapes.
For more resources on mindfulness, visit mind.org!
I hope you enjoyed my post on the benefits of mindfulness for mental health and wellness. Being more mindful is such a beautiful thing and has helped me with my depression, anxiety and BPD. If you have any other mindfulness tips or tricks, leave them in the comments below!