The Research behind Mindfulness for Mental Health, and Easy Ways to get Started Today
Mindfulness is a simple concept, but it still feels hard to implement in your daily life. Why set aside the time for meditation, deep breathing, or yoga when you’re so busy? It turns out there’s an impressive amount of research that supports mindfulness practices. And being intentional about mindfulness could help you feel better — mentally and physically. Let’s get into the research behind mindfulness for mental health, and easy ways to implement it in your life.
Life is very noisy most of the time. You’ve got a lot to think about — whether it’s work obligations, school projects, family drama, or caregiver tasks. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the past or the future, and neglect the “here and now”. How often do you turn down your thoughts, look around, and appreciate the moment you’re in?
Mindfulness is a philosophy that focuses on just that — pushing all that planning and ruminating to the side and being present in the moment you’re in. This new concept in pop culture and media has been around for about 2500 years. It might sound like you’re tuning everything out, but it helps you tune in to your body in a nonjudgemental way. Mindfulness practices focus on five major themes:
Research shows that taking up a mindfulness practice has powerful positive effects on mental and physical health. Because of the link between mindfulness and health, more mental health professionals are recommending mindfulness practice alongside therapy or medications. These integrative strategies (sometimes called MBIs, or Mindfulness-Based Interventions) help give patients the tools to alter their brains for the better.
At KarmaDocs, we put together treatment plans that help our patients live better and heal from mental illness. These plans often include mindfulness practices, such as BrainTune guided meditations. So to help you understand why we recommend it, we’ve put together a guide on how to use mindfulness for (research-backed) mental health benefits.
The Science of Mindfulness
Mindfulness interventions train your attention to help you notice and control your own thoughts. This might sound a little “far out” if you haven’t heard much about it before. But there’s evidence that mindfulness makes you mentally stronger by controlling the symptoms of mental illnesses. This is called self-regulation. And it’s linked to better outcomes in school as well as better physical and mental health.
Mindfulness may also shield you from the consequences of life stress. This is called resiliency in medicine, or the ability to bounce back from a struggle. People with depression who use mindfulness are more resilient to symptoms.3 It’s even helped people be more resilient to physical pain and is now used commonly to help alleviate chronic pain.
Mindfulness also has positive effects on our bodies neurologically and hormonally. It’s shown to decrease levels of cortisol in trials. Regular practice has also been shown to change the brain, and help with plasticity in the long-term.
How Mindfulness Helps With Specific Mental Illnesses
Mindfulness techniques are still being studied in specific mental illnesses, such as
- Eating Disorders
- PTSD and Trauma
Let’s talk about the research to support mindfulness treatment in each of these diagnoses.
In large-scale research, mindfulness interventions have helped people with anxiety and mood disorders to reduce their symptoms.2 People with anxiety tend to struggle with recurrent critical and negative thoughts. Mindfulness therapy and interventions help people take a step back from these thoughts and avoid an anxiety spiral. It’s even been shown to be just as effective as Lexapro — the leading anti-anxiety medication.
People with major depressive disorder can benefit from mindfulness in several ways. Therapeutic mindfulness interventions have been proven to help prevent relapse in people with depression. In trials, people who practice mindfulness were about half as likely to have their symptoms return compared to control groups. And some research has shown that mindfulness is about as effective as medication for preventing depressive symptoms.2
There’s also evidence that mindfulness could be a helpful adjunct to eating disorder (ED) treatment. In trials, people with EDs were able to reduce their emotional eating and binge eating. Using mindfulness techniques also helped ease their concerns with shape and weight. People who are more mindful struggle less with body dissatisfaction and self-judgment at the root of EDs.
PTSD and Trauma
People with PTSD and trauma can also benefit from a mindfulness practice. Dr. Sunder has written about the incredible benefit mindfulness has for people with combat trauma, who are often underserved by conventional treatments. It’s shown to help with symptoms of trauma just as much as medications and therapy. It’s an effective option for people looking to get off of antidepressant medications.2 In large trials, mindfulness interventions helped reduce the symptoms of PTSD, such as flashbacks.
Are you struggling with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or PTSD? Incorporating a mindfulness practice could help you increase your resiliency and control your own thoughts. But how can you get started on your own mindfulness journey?
Starting Mindfulness Techniques for Mental Wellness
When you think about mindfulness, do you picture a person doing yoga on the beach? Or someone meditating with their legs crossed? These are great practices, but they’re not the only way to incorporate mindfulness. Just taking a few moments to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and calm your thoughts can help you feel better.
Check out some common ways to practice mindfulness:
- Breathing exercises
- Body scans
- Guided meditation
- Walking meditation
- Being in nature
Pick one or two of these habits to start, try them out every day for a few weeks, and see what happens. Five minutes of time a day add up to a rich practice over weeks, months, or years. But it takes being intentional to commit to a mindfulness practice. And you might forget to do it for a day or two. So let’s talk about practical ways to incorporate mindfulness into daily life.
Incorporating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Life
We get it — life is hectic, and it’s more appealing to spend ten minutes watching Netflix than doing a deep breathing exercise. But mindfulness support is more accessible than ever, and setting up some reminders can help you stay on track with a new habit.
Psst. . . struggling with sticking to your 2023 health goals? Check out our guide.
Looking for a more structured way to start practicing mindfulness? Dr. Sunder has developed a personalized series of meditations to help you get started. His system is designed to help you:
- Condition your neural networks
- Tune your own brain
- Get the most out of a mindfulness practice
Check it out on the Braintune website.
Mindfulness and Integrative Psychiatry
Mindfulness is an important part of an integrative care plan. Some scholars call it a “must-have” to keep our brains healthy. We’re excited to see more patients experience the benefits of mindfulness because it’s a free, accessible tool for everyone. All it takes is some personal discipline, and a few minutes to get started.
If you made it all the way to the end of this article — we invite you to take a deep breath.
Feel your heartbeat, and be thankful for it. Notice any sounds around you, and take a moment to register your own thoughts. Are you feeling anxious? Excited? Taking a moment for mindfulness can be as simple as this.
Looking for a complete integrative mental wellness plan? The KarmaDocs team is here for you. We help patients who have struggled with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more, to experience a better life.
By using a combination of
- Supportive psychotherapy
- Mindfulness interventions
We guide you on your path to mental wellness.
If you’d like to learn more about integrative psychiatry, visit our guide on integrative treatment plans.
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