Using mindfulness to reduce stress

Life can be stressful. Home and family demands, job responsibilities, and other everyday factors can make us feel overwhelmed, or like we don't have time to relax. Learning how to clear your mind from stress and anxiety by practicing mindfulness can help you keep your body and mind healthy.

How stress affects your body

The Mayo Clinic  says that long-term overexposure to stress hormones, such as cortisol, can disrupt almost all your body's processes and put you at risk for health problems such as: 

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Digestive problems.
  • Headaches.
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and stroke.
  • Memory and concentration issues.
  • Muscle tension and pain.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Weight gain.

Stress and anxiety can also make it harder to treat chronic diseases, such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, and heart disease.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a practice that involves paying attention to the present moment and being aware of one's thoughts, feelings, and sensations without judgment.

The health benefits of mindfulness

Many people are turning to mindfulness to fight the effects of stress and improve their overall well-being. Practicing mindfulness can:  

  • Calm the mind — focusing on the present moment can reduce the mental chatter that often leads to stress and anxiety.
  • Lower the physical effects of stress — as levels of stress hormones go down, the risk of developing physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue decreases as well. 
  • Increase emotional strength — when we learn to observe our thoughts and feelings without judgment, we'll respond to stressful situations more calmly and measuredly. 
  • Improve overall well-being — once we feel good about ourselves and our lives, we are better prepared to handle the challenges that come our way.

Mindfulness as primary care

Mindfulness can be effective as part of a primary care regimen and can complement behavioral health treatments. The results of a clinical trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association  found that the effects of a mindfulness meditation program are similar to those of a first-line medication for patients with anxiety disorders.

How do you practice mindfulness?

Mindfulness doesn't require a specific posture, repeating phrases, or a dedicated space. You just need a fairly quiet place where you can sit and focus on breathing and other sensations in the present moment. Don't feel frustrated if your mind wanders into the buzz of everyday thoughts; acknowledge the momentary loss of focus and gently bring your attention back to the present moment.

Anyone can practice mindfulness. Guided meditation, a form of mindfulness, is often recommended as alternative healthcare. As we understand more about the connection between mind and body, mindfulness may play a growing role in treating conditions where lowering stress and its related effects can have a meaningful impact.