Self-help

9 Benefits of Mindfulness for Physical and Mental Health

Mindfulness is touted as a panacea for life’s challenges, enhancing productivity, memory, and happiness. It involves being present and attentive, offering numerous benefits supported by research. This article delves into how mindfulness positively impacts both physical and mental well-being.

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on May 01, 2024

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You’ve heard it loud and clear that mindfulness could be the perfect solution for various life problems, boosting your productivity, memory, happiness, and more. Mindfulness benefits span every area of life.

Mindfulness is staying aware of your thoughts, feelings, and physical environment with a curious but compassionate attitude. It’s all about slowing down and paying attention amidst this busy world.

So let’s explore the benefits of mindfulness for your physical and mental health, backed by scientific research.

1. Helps Restore Mental Health

Mindfulness helps to tackle mental health issues from the following three angles:

Mindfulness for Stress

Mindfulness trains you to be present and, in turn, has been shown to minimize unhelpful reactions to stressful situations.

Studies have observed stress-reducing changes in parts of the brain that deal with emotional regulation when mindfulness was introduced. Another study of diverse participants from 130 countries linked mindfulness to lower psychological symptoms of stress after a six-week mindfulness online course.

These outcomes result from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), techniques commonly used in the medical field after Jon Kabat-Zinn, a former university professor, popularized mindfulness in the 1970s.

Mindfulness for Anxiety

“In a world where everything is ‘improved’ by the speed at which we access things, utilizing mindfulness helps us remember that sometimes slow and steady can be beneficial. ‘Stop and smell the roses’ shouldn’t be viewed as just a cute saying. It should serve as a reminder that being mindful of the world in which we live can improve our lives in numerous ways,” says Rick Melton, a licensed clinical social worker at Grow Therapy.

Mindfulness meditation helps the body and mind relax, counteracting anxiety. It trains you to accommodate difficult thoughts, feelings, and body sensations without encouraging, overthinking, or suppressing them. 

A randomized clinical trial comparing the effectiveness of mindfulness and an antidepressant called Lexapro on reducing anxiety showed a 30% decrease in anxiety within two months for both test groups. 

While antidepressants have side effects, mindfulness-based therapy doesn’t. The lead researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, followed up with an interview, highly recommending mindfulness for treating anxiety as long as a mindfulness instructor leads you. 

Mindfulness for Depression

Mindfulness tackles depressive symptoms by keeping you in the present moment. It also allows you to correct negative thinking patterns because you can now slow down and think of reality more.

For Keri Wiginton, therapy, antidepressants, socializing, and all other things never eased her depressive symptoms. That was until she practiced mindfulness, which she reports had worked for her friend’s anxiety. She admits that daily life practice of mindfulness isn’t as easy as popping a pill, but it worked.

2. Makes It Easier to Develop Healthier Habits

Mindfulness has been demonstrated to be an excellent way to keep one on track since its basis is focusing on the task at hand.

In a review of studies addressing mindfulness’s positive impact on behavioral change, the researchers concluded that practicing mindfulness can reduce impulsive and aggressive behaviors. Therefore, if someone is struggling with anger control, for example, they can develop anger management skills with mindfulness behavioral therapy.

Another review of smoking cessation and weight loss studies suggests mindfulness as an effective intervention for promoting behavioral change. For someone with an eating disorder, for instance, body awareness or simply pausing to observe a craving may prove helpful.

3. Supports Physical Health

When mental health improves, physical health benefits. And that’s why mindfulness is categorized under mind-body medicine.

For starters, stress damages the body in a million ways. So it makes sense that if you relieve yourself from stress and develop healthier habits, your body responds positively as well.

A qualitative analysis of the effects of mindfulness on heart health not only proved that mindfulness boosts heart health but also showed how it does it. 

The participants discovered increased self-awareness and better emotional regulation, responding more effectively to stressors. Also, they could more easily identify and practice behaviors promoting heart health, like the right diet and exercise.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on mindfulness-sleep clinical trials also reported that mindfulness practice improves sleep, improving the body’s immune response.

Through an online mindfulness-based program, some researchers claimed improved immunity apart from other productivity-enhancing benefits among its participants after eight weeks.

While it’s rare to hear of someone who credits mindfulness alone to their physical healing, many people say the practice helped improve their health indirectly through better sleep, mindful eating, better blood pressure levels, reduced burnout, and other health-improving factors.

4. May Boost Happiness

Less focus on worries and heightened appreciation for the moment-by-moment experience equals happier outcomes.

So what does mindfulness for happiness research show?

Additionally, a couple of studies during the peak of the COVID pandemic showed that mindfulness promoted happiness due to increased hope

5. Fosters Relationships

“Mindfulness can allow us to connect more deeply with others. When we are deeply listening to a loved one as they speak and giving them our undivided attention, we can really soak in that moment, as well as show up for them in a different way,” says Julia Preamplume, a licensed clinical social worker at Grow Therapy.

Mindfulness boosts interpersonal relationships because you can relate better with yourself through self-compassion. Present-moment awareness also helps you see others with more clarity and empathy instead of judgment.

When you practice being mindful for some time, you transition from states of mindfulness to trait mindfulness (meaning being mindful has become part of your personality). This helps you observe your actions and those of others accurately enough to respond wisely.

A recent study found that mindfulness promotes acting with awareness, boosting relationship quality. The researchers concluded that mindful partners were better equipped for conflict resolution. These claims agree with many past studies done on the subject.

Research also links mindfulness to the increased tendency to ask for forgiveness, which fosters long-lasting, satisfying relationships.

6. Improves Productivity

Mindfulness helps you execute tasks more efficiently by focusing on the moment. You’re more organized, attentive, and relaxed when mindful. 

Stress is one of the major hindrances to productivity in the workplace and beyond. But we’ve learned that mindfulness reduces stress. Therefore, through mindfulness-based stress reduction programs, you can be more productive. One way to implement mindfulness at work is by keeping items around you, such as a fountain, music players, candles, incense, fidget toys, etc., to engage your senses and keep you grounded in the present moment. 

A systematic review of the effects of mindfulness on people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) showed improvement in the symptoms. The participants were more focused, attentive, better able to practice self-regulation of their emotions, and even showed improved grades at school. In a nutshell, they were more productive.

7. Helps Refine Your Memory

Mindfulness removes the interference of older memories with new ones, boosting short-term memory while maintaining accurate long-term memory.

This has to do with the increased size of the hippocampus, an area of the brain in charge of memory, as a recent study on 79 participants through a four-week mindfulness program reports.

Also, a systematic review of 24 past research papers on mindfulness’s effect on mind wandering suggested that mindfulness reduces distracting thoughts. This, in turn, improves memory since distractions clutter the mind and compromise memory recall.

This is one of the most immediate benefits of mindfulness if one needs to heal from brain overload. Even with memory decline diseases such as Alzheimer’s, a study on 261 adults with a family history of Alzheimer’s showed less cognitive decline, another huge potential benefit of mindfulness.

8. Aids in Addiction Recovery

Mindfulness can also help fight addiction. Several studies suggest its effectiveness in reducing cravings while dealing with other root causes, like stress and identity issues through self-awareness.

While addiction disrupts the default mode network in the brain, mindfulness resets it to default mode (a normal resting state), according to another study on how the practice inhibits addictive behavior.

Continued substance use or relapse in recovery is often a direct result of being in “autopilot” and not being present for the transitions from triggers to thoughts to emotions and, ultimately, the action of substance use. Practicing mindfulness and bringing intentional awareness to our cognition, our feelings, and our behaviors in recovery can be the factor that helps us stay sober and successful for another hour, another day.

9. Assists with Pain Relief and Psychological Distress in Sickness

When the body is sick, the mind also gets compromised, especially with chronic diseases like cancer. 

Mindfulness practices like body scan meditation are credited for reducing stress-induced symptoms in people suffering from chronic illnesses and improving quality of life.

A 2021 scoping review concluded several studies on the relationship between mindfulness and patient distress, indicating that mindfulness interventions help ‌patients improve psychologically, which also translates to physical health.

In another study, people with frequent migraines reported improved quality of life and less pain catastrophization (exaggeration of the chronic pain felt) after completing an eight-week mindfulness meditation program.

While the benefits of mindfulness don’t include “curing” physical diseases, they entail maintaining the body’s ability to heal. 

Takeaways

Whether your goal is improved mental health, habit development, or better interpersonal relationships, practicing mindfulness can help achieve these results. Even better, get a qualified therapist, like the ones at Grow Therapy, to help you reach your mindfulness goals.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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