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How Practicing Mindfulness Can Help Improve Mental Health

Brad Brenner, Ph.D.

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present moment—and accepting it without judgment. Your mindfulness practices might involve a meditation session in a dark room, where you might use a guided meditation app. You might set aside a few minutes at work, at home, or even in the garden. Countless free mindfulness apps are available to help you achieve a heightened sense of attention, self-compassion, and mind-body awareness.

Several relaxation techniques can help you reap the benefits of mindfulness, such as yoga, qigong, tai chi, and loving-kindness meditation. Whether alone or in combination with psychotherapy, mindfulness techniques contribute to a stress-free lifestyle. Here’s how mindfulness practices can improve your mental health.

mindfulness and mental health

Mindfulness Meditation Increases Your Awareness

We live in a busy world, and it can be challenging to step away from your daily routine, stop scrolling through social media, and eliminate distractions in everyday life. Mindfulness exercises give you a few minutes to focus on yourself, cultivate self-compassion, and foster positive emotions.

By focusing your full attention on the present moment, you’ll be able to appreciate the pleasures of everyday living as they occur. Whether you’re navigating adolescence or adulthood, meditation practice can help improve your concentration skills and conscious awareness, helping you feel more engaged with everyday life. Over time, you’ll adopt a more mindful approach, incorporating mindfulness skills into your daily life to reduce stress.

Mindfulness techniques also help you become fully engaged in activities and build resilience to deal with adverse events. Mindfulness exercises can help you worry less about the future, feel less preoccupied with your self-esteem, and develop better relationships. And because less rumination often translates to less anxiety, the practice of mindfulness can be especially beneficial for individuals with anxiety disorders such as GAD and social anxiety disorder.

Mindfulness Practices Promote Well-Being

Your mental health and physical health are closely intertwined. As such, the practice of mindfulness can improve your mental health by fostering a stronger mind-body connection.

Our thoughts, feelings, and emotions can affect our physical health—and vice versa. From the foods we eat to how we move, our physical health can affect our emotional and mental states. In other words, the body can affect the mind and the mind can affect the body. The aim of mindfulness—a heightened sense of awareness—helps mitigate the effects of stress on our physical health by calming our minds.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), relaxation techniques help combat physical health problems in several ways. Mindfulness techniques can help treat heart disease, lower blood pressure, quell acute physical pain, and reduce chronic pain. If you’re experiencing burnout, a low mood, or sleep problems, mindfulness meditation can relieve the stress that may be contributing to these issues.

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Relaxation Techniques Reduce Psychological Pain

In recent years, psychotherapists have utilized mindfulness training to treat mental health conditions, including substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and mood disorders.

Even in the absence of mental disorders, mindfulness techniques provide stress reduction benefits. Additionally, thanks to Jon-Kabat Zinn’s MBSR program, an increasing body of research shows that mindfulness meditation can help improve a person’s ability to cope with psychological pain, depression, and anxiety that may accompany illness, especially chronic conditions.

For example, addiction recovery services commonly utilize meditation practice in the treatment of substance use disorders. Drug addictions arise due to physiological cravings for a substance. Mindfulness practices can help in addiction treatment to improve emotional regulation and minimize mood disturbances. Moreover, meditation can help people better tolerate cravings, helping them prevent relapse after being safely weaned off the substance.

Remember that professional mental health help is available.

Mindfulness practices have wide-ranging benefits on mental health—from reducing stress to boosting self-compassion. Many types of therapy incorporate mindfulness practices to help clients raise awareness of their thoughts, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

Although mindfulness exercises can help you combat mild anxiety, self-doubt, low self-esteem, and other mental health issues, it’s important to remember that mindfulness practices are not a substitute for therapy. Especially if you’re experiencing more severe mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), mindfulness should be supplementary to an intensive treatment plan.

If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) for immediate support.

If you need extra help managing your mental health symptoms, that’s completely understandable. To find a mental health provider, reach out to a therapist through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to a psychologist, social worker, or counselor you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. Above all else, finding a therapist you feel comfortable with can help you manage negative emotions, develop different ways to cope with challenging situations, and improve your quality of life.

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