By Dr David Zimmerman, Clinical Psychologist
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. When we engage in deliberate mindfulness practise, it provides a window of opportunity to suspend judgment and unleash our natural curiosity about the workings of the mind and approaching our experience with warmth and kindness.
An abundance of research has emerged in recent years on the benefits of deliberate mindfulness practise:
• Psychological Wellbeing for those with ASD: A systematic review by Cachia (2016) highlighted that within the ASD population, mindfulness training leads to a reduction in anxiety and thought problems in children as well as increased social responsiveness, broad psychological well-being and reduced aggression in adolescents. For adults with ASD, mindfulness training reduced anxiety, depression and rumination, and was associated with an increase in positive affect. In a separate study, mindfulness based interventions were just as effective for the reduction of depression and anxiety related symptoms in adults with ASD when compared to other mainstream interventions, such as cognitive behaviour therapy (Sizoo & Kuiper, 2017).
• Reduced rumination: Several studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce unhelpful rumination. Rumination is the focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions (Chambers et al., 2008; Desbordes et al., 2012).
• Physical Health: There is emerging evidence that the mere act of clearing your mind for 15 minutes a day can alter how your genes operate and may be associated with a meaningful decrease in blood pressure (Bhasin et al., 2018).
• Stress reduction: Many studies show that practicing mindfulness can reduces the effects of chronic stress. Mindfulness based meditation increases positive affect and decreases anxiety. Mindfulness meditation works by shifting people’s ability to use emotion regulation strategies in a way that enables them to experience emotion selectively, and that the emotions they experience may be processed differently in the brain (Farb et al., 2010; Williams, 2010).
• Focus: Another study examined how mindfulness meditation affected participants’ ability to focus attention and suppress distracting information. The researchers compared a group of experienced mindfulness meditators with a control group that had no meditation experience. They found that the meditation group had significantly better performance on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation practice and self-reported mindfulness were correlated directly with cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning (Moore and Malinowski, 2009).
• Less emotional reactivity: Research supports the notion that mindfulness meditation decreases emotional reactivity. In a study of people who had anywhere from one month to 29 years of mindfulness meditation practice, researchers found that mindfulness helped people disengage from emotionally upsetting pictures and enabled them to focus better on a cognitive task as compared with people who saw the pictures but did not meditate (Ortner et al., 2007).
• Greater cognitive flexibility: Another line of research suggests that in addition to helping people become less reactive, mindfulness meditation may also give them greater cognitive flexibility. One study found that people who practice mindfulness meditation appear to develop the skill of self-observation, which neurologically disengages the automatic pathways that were created by prior learning and enables present-moment input to be integrated in a new way (Siegel, 2007). Meditation also activates the brain region associated with more adaptive responses to stressful or negative situations (Cahn & Polich, 2006; Davidson et al., 2010).
• Relationship satisfaction: Several studies have found that a person’s ability to be mindful can help predict relationship satisfaction — the ability to respond well to relationship stress and the skill in communicating one’s emotions to a partner. Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness protects against the emotionally stressful effects of relationship conflict (Barnes et al., 2007), is positively associated with the ability to express oneself in various social situations (Dekeyser el al., 2008) and predicts relationship satisfaction (Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
A simple way to get started and to practise building mindfulness into your everyday life is by downloading the free application Smiling Mind (https://smilingmind.com.au). The app is simple to use and will help you get started on your journey to building greater “moment-to-moment awareness” of your thoughts and feelings and experiencing them in a positive and helpful way.
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Bhasin, M. K., Denninger, J. W., Huffman, J. C., Joseph, M. G., Niles, H., Chad-Friedman, E., … & Dusek, J. A. (2018). Specific Transcriptome Changes Associated with Blood Pressure Reduction in Hypertensive Patients After Relaxation Response Training. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(5), 486-504.
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