Benefits of Mindfulness

After I wrote an article about incorporating mindfulness into everyday life the comment I kept getting was, “Okay, thanks but why should I do it?” The Reader’s Digest answer: Because it makes everything better. For those who are looking for more specific benefits here's a sampling of the everything (with scientific research to back it up for you fact checkers):

Improved Mental Health

This includes improved mood and reduced stress. Stress, anxiety, and sadness result from either taking a visit to our past or future tripping. Things are pretty much all right in the present moment. And even when it isn’t we can often improve it by remaining present in the moment. When we're able to do this our levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, decrease and grey matter in the brain increases. Grey matter is involved in regulating emotions, developing perspective, and our sense of self. Given that we have such high rates of stress, depression, and anxiety in our society mindfulness can provide some welcome relief.

Improved Physical Health

Certainly the reduced stress plays a role since stress can be directly linked to most of the leading causes of death. Specific physical benefits of a mindfulness practice include improved sleep, particularly in cancer patients, pain relief, weight loss (weight gain is linked to increased cortisol levels), reduced blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, decreased inflammation and relief of inflammatory diseases, boosted immune system, reduced risk or developing or progression of Alzheimers, and possibly help treat HIV. It may even help us to live longer even if we’re disease free.

Improved Cognitive Abilities

Yup, mindfulness can make you smarter! And who couldn't use a few extra points on the ol' IQ scale. Again this is at least partially related to the reduction of stress but studies have also shown it improves information processing, decision making, the ability to focus (including in those with diagnosed ADHD), creativity, and learning and memory overall (grey matter is also related to this).

Improved relationships

"Have you heard a single word I’ve said?!" "That wasn’t at all what I meant!" There isn’t a single person who hasn’t uttered those words in some form or another when relating to another person. We make relationships more difficult when we aren’t fully present for them. When we can mindfully engage with someone we can truly hear and understand them, which is all any of us really want. This means when we interact with others we give that interaction our full attention. When a thought arises we return our attention back to the interaction. This increases connection and when someone feels heard they are more likely to be just as present with you. In addition, loving-kindness meditation (either practiced with others or alone) has been shown to increase connection between people, increase compassion, and reduce isolation and loneliness.