During the current lockdown, there’s never been a greater need to engage in proper self-care. But what does this actually mean? One of the most effective ways we can look after ourselves is through mindfulness. In fact, it’s one of the most valuable tools you can have at your disposal during the current pandemic. It can help alleviate unwarranted fears and bring a sense of perspective to your circumstances that might be lacking. In essence, it’s a lifestyle approach that can not only improve your mental health but also your quality of life. If you were to take the time to incorporate some of the basic principles into your daily routine, they would serve you long past the projected length of lockdown
At present, the practice of mindfulness still exists somewhere in a space between spirituality and mainstream acceptance. It’s neither not quite here and not quite there. But over the last decade especially, there’s been a greater acknowledgement of the benefits of mindfulness from a therapeutic standpoint. In fact, there’s been considerable interest from schools looking to offer mindfulness as part of a more holistic curriculum. Businesses and public services are also seeing the benefit of providing mindfulness meditation training to improve wellbeing and improve overall productivity.
But the scope of mindfulness goes far beyond creating a basic feeling of ‘wellbeing.’ As advantageous as that is for many people, it has much more to offer than that. What does an increase in wellbeing actually mean? Possibly the most commonly cited improvement that people report is a reduction in stress levels – also known as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). There are have been several studies that have all but confirmed this as being credible. The most compelling reveals that mindfulness creates less avoidance and more “approach coping” in the face of stress than is found in either relaxation or self-affirmation practices. A consistent practice of mindfulness has been found to alleviate stress in groups as diverse as parents, healthcare professionals, veterans suffering from mental health issues and police officers.
Some of the more remarkable findings have been in studies concerning those suffering from cancer and other chronic and terminal illnesses. It’s not within the realm of possibility for mindfulness to cure these people. However, it is possible to help make the symptoms far more manageable and significantly improve quality of life. One such study, the eCALM trial, found that a practice of mindfulness meditation was able to reduce stress, increase spirituality and non-reactivity to discomfort, facilitate post-traumatic growth and increase vitality. Another study exploring the effects of MBSR found it was able to increase the ability to function independently in those who were experiencing chronic lower back pain.
These benefits also extend to the capacity people have to recover from life-threatening conditions and even from traumatic events. A study of MBSR that focused on Chinese breast cancer survivors found it could enhance post-traumatic growth while decreasing stress and anxiety. A further study group focusing on a different set of breast cancer survivors highlighted the ability to act towards themselves with increased kindness.
Perhaps the most pertinent of all as it relates to mental health in general, though is the effect mindfulness meditation has in alleviating the symptoms of depression. Again, as with the cancer patients, it’s not self-contained treatment, but more of supplemental therapy – albeit a very effective one. One of the key ways mindfulness has been shown to assist in treating depression is through increasing your ability to regulate emotions. In this sense, mindfulness is like a tool that you can use to bring awareness to negative emotions, label them and work with them instead of constantly battling against them. It promotes self-acceptance and helps you progress on your journey to recovery much quicker than without.
To provide a full examination of the applications of mindfulness here is beyond the scope of this article. It’s an incredibly expansive area of study that is constantly being updated with new findings. But hopefully, this has given you an insight into what mindfulness can do for you outside of its spiritual context.