You will not doubt have heard a great many people discuss mindfulness in recent times, often with incredulity that it will actually work. Just what is this supposed panacea to all of life’s ills? Can it really be effective when we find ourselves under duress? The answer to the latter question is yes, provided you are prepared to fully understand the circumstances that surround mindfulness and not to expect an instantaneous result.
When we boil mindfulness down to the most simplistic definition possible, it comes down to living for the moment. That means not fretting about what happened last Tuesday, or how you’re going to fit in everything that you have planned for the weekend without disappointing somebody. It’s about stopping, catching your breath, and focussing on the task at hand – if only for a moment.
Of course, this doesn’t answer the question as to how mindfulness is effective – using the definition above, you could easily wonder if it is any better than a pat on the head or a comforting word. The truth is, as an offshoot of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), mindfulness has its roots in science.
CBT is the practice of changing the way we think in order to break patterns of behaviour, ‘training’ the brain to approach issues from a different angle. CBT has become one of the highest-regarded practices in the field of psychiatry, and evolving from these roots, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is becoming increasingly popular as a drug-free method for effectively treating depression, anxiety, and stress. Research also shows that it can certainly help in relieving other conditions, such as food cravings and dietary disorders.
It’s All Chemistry
In addition to this, there is the simple fact that mindfulness effectively alters the chemistry of your brain for the better. When our senses acknowledge something that could lead to harm – the sight of a ball sailing towards our heads while walking the dog in the park, for example, or the sound the screeching brakes of a car making an emergency stop – our Amygdala (a complex set of neurons located deeply in your brain) sends a warning message to the brain and body that danger is imminent.
This causes panic, and in some cases the Amygdala will ‘hijack’ your entire brain and body. This leads to the so-called ‘fight or flight response’. When survival instinct kicks in, the Amygdala overrides every other thought process or limb control so that we can use those energy reserves to run away faster, leap out of the way a little more nimbly, or fight, scratch and claw with a little more intensity.
Mindfulness is so effective because it prevents this. When we coach our brains via MCBT into taking a breath – and a moment – to fully understand a predicament that we find ourselves in, we are considerably more likely to react appropriately. This is why it’s so important to practice mindfulness and understand the extent of its effectiveness. Bringing it into our everyday routines can make a huge difference to the way we handle situations, with reports from many people that it has really changed their lives.