If you had an opportunity to take a pill, that would have many benefits including:
- Decreases stress
- Improves cognitive function
- Increases the brains ability to control emotions and decreases reactivity
- Improves sleep
- Increases our immune system
- Decreases risk and severity of depression & anxiety
- Decreases blood pressure, and decrease risk of stroke & heart attack
- Increases brain neuroplasticity – the brains ability to change
- Increases brain gray matter – which is related to slowed brain aging and increased memory and concentration
- Improves relationship satisfaction, improves responses to conflict, improves empathy and acceptance of ones partner, and promotes attachment
- Reduces pain intensity and unpleasantness
How much would you pay for this pill? The bad news is that a pill doesn’t exist – but the good news is there is a mental exercise that can give you these benefits – called Mindfulness.
Mindfullness is complex to describe – but imagine yourself sitting near a river and watching the flowing water. Mindfulness is watching the flow of thoughts, feelings, ideas, judgments and habits as they come and go. Mindfulness is really about where your mind places your attention – and with practice, it gives you move control over emotions, thoughts and experiences. For example, when playing with kids or a pet, is your mind in the moment, or are you thinking or things you still need to complete today?
A great exercise to try to see how mindLESS we can be, particularly with food, is this mindfulness exercise:
(Make sure you have a healthy food item available such as a strawberry)
Now, I know it would take forever to eat a meal with this approach. But it truly shows us how much we miss in our day-to-day eating. We miss pleasure – intense flavors, beautiful shapes and details, and delightful smells. These queues are very important in signaling to our brain that we are full and satisfied.
We can apply mindfulness also to our every day activities. I developed the below mindfulness handout with information, and ideas for incorporating mindfulness into your daily life. How many of these tips are you willing to try?
(click on the above link for the handout)
Audio Mindfulness Exercise Adapted from: Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Jon Kabat-Zinn (2007). The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. New York: Guilford Press.