In the last few weeks, I’ve had the most frustrating case of writers’ block I’ve ever experienced.
Recently, I started a freelance contract for a piece on mindfulness and health. It was going along swimmingly for a couple of days, and then election happened. I’ll spare you my feelings on the election, but let’s just say I’ve been feeling especially thoughtful since November 9th. I’ve found it very difficult to focus since then.
Several days ago, as I sat banging my head against my desk, I realized the irony of my situation. I probably would not have lost focus while writing my piece on mindfulness if I’d been more diligent about my mindfulness practice!
Mindfulness is an ancient practice that has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and for good reason! Regular mindfulness practice is associated with many health benefits.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a purposeful, nonjudgmental state of awareness. If you are new to mindfulness, that definition may seem a little…out there. But stay with me.
We have become wired for busyness. If you are like me, you are constantly thinking of what’s next—what you need to do and where you need to be. Mindfulness trains the brain to be more present, and to be more accepting of your present circumstances. In doing so, it relieves stress.
How exactly does it relieve stress?
In times of stress, the hormone cortisol increases brain activity in the amygdala and hypothalamus and decreases activity in the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is the brain’s emotional response center, while the prefrontal cortex allows us to think logically and rationally.
In other words, when we are stressed, we get stuck in a glass case of emotion.
Mindfulness reverses this pattern of brain activity (1). Neurobiologist Dan Siegel explains that mindfulness keeps you from “flipping your lid.”
Because so many health conditions are affected by stress, mindfulness has become a popular research topic. Studies suggest that mindfulness may be a helpful addition to standard medical care for anxiety (2), depression (3), cardiovascular disease (4), irritable bowel syndrome (5), pregnancy (6), cancer (7, 8), and other conditions.From a nutrition standpoint, mindfulness has been shown to be helpful in weight loss. I’ll be expanding on that in upcoming posts.
And of course, it can help with focus. I can attest to that after finally finishing my article when I prioritized my mindfulness practice.
So how do you begin a mindfulness practice?
Mindful.org (one of my all-time favorite sites) and Pocket Mindfulness have thousands of articles and tips to get you started. The apps Insight Timer and Headspace offer guided mindfulness meditation sessions. Insight Timer is free. Headspace is a subscription service that provides 10 free trial sessions.
And as I mentioned, stay tuned for more info on one of my favorite topics, mindful eating.
Happy holidays, friends! Serenity now!