Mindfulness is simply noticing what is happening right now without wishing it were different. Enjoy the pleasurable without holding on when it changes (which it will). Being with the unpleasant without fear will always be like that (which it will not be). - James Baraz
This world can certainly test our limits, physically, mentally and emotionally. Sometimes the rush and worries of the world can seem overwhelming, and our minds can quickly become unbalanced. Mental illness has skyrocketed in recent years, due to increasing demands, overuse of technology, and an increasingly chaotic world in general. Many of us wish we could turn our brains off. But perhaps the answer lies in using our minds more efficiently.
Doctors and scientists discovered that mindfulness could allow us to stay in the present moment and not be exhausted by the uncertainties of life. By remaining still and calm, this inner peace permeates outward. Therefore, anything in one's environment becomes manageable. Peace of mind, in one's mind, makes it much easier to deal with all of life's stresses and concerns.
Scientists recently thought that the human brain stopped developing in adolescence or adulthood, and that it would never change after that. However, they have now discovered that our minds can reorganize and reconnect by forming neural connections throughout life, called neuroplasticity. In fact, some studies show that the brain can build new connections despite injury, illness, or age. These studies show that the brain could even strengthen and repair itself!
Researchers no longer believe that the brain cannot change throughout life. Also, mindfulness can help change the wiring and create new connections. Below, we'll go over several studies showing how increased awareness can help our brains develop new neural pathways and networks.
RESEARCHERS REVEAL HOW CAREFUL ATTENTION CAN HELP HEAL YOUR BRAIN:
1 - FULL ATTENTION CAN HELP REDUCE DEPRESSION.
Millions of people suffer from depression around the world, and according to data from Blue Cross Blue Shield, people of all age groups have seen an increase in depression diagnoses. In the United States, depression affects about 10% of the population in a given year. And in the UK, the number of people taking antidepressants increased by 100% between 1998 and 2010.
University of Toronto professor of psychiatry Zindel Segal received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to conduct a study on mindfulness-based stress reduction (or MBSR). Along with two colleagues from the University of Oxford, Dr. Segal found that many patients saw dramatic results from the mindfulness program. The patients showed such high success rates that Dr. Segal got permission to do another study showing the effectiveness of mindfulness in depression. Due to these studies, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) became a conventional healing modality for depression.
In the study, all the patients had been previously diagnosed with depression. Of these, 80% experienced three or more depressive episodes in one year. 34-36% of MBCT participants who experienced three or more depressive episodes had not had a relapse in one year compared with those who took antidepressants or participated in other types of therapy.
"People at risk of depression are dealing with many negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves and this can easily slip into a depressive relapse," says the study's lead author.Lancet , Willem Kuyken, PhD, professor at the University of Oxford. in the United Kingdom. "MBCT helps them recognize what is happening, engage in a different way, and respond with equanimity and compassion."
The study also found that participants with a history of severe child abuse, which is linked to an increased risk of depressive relapse, benefited more than the overall group. Of course, this type of therapy alone may not cure someone with severe depression. However, it can always serve as a useful addition to antidepressants and other types of treatment.
2 - FULL ATTENTION HELPS TO IMPROVE LEARNING, MEMORY AND COGNITIVE FUNCTIONING IN GENERAL
"Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peace and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day."
Harvard Medical School professor Sara Lazar and other Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital wanted to test this claim by developing an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program. The program included weekly mindfulness meditation classes. They provided audio recordings for the 16 participants to listen to on their own. The instructors told them to keep track of how long they meditated alone each day. The average time was around 27 minutes a day for most of the participants. The researchers instructed them to focus primarily on "non-judgmental awareness of sensations, feelings, and state of mind" for the duration of the study.
They used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to image the brain structure of the participants and took separate images for the control group. The control group did not participate in the eight-week meditation program.
The participants stated that they had noticed improvements in cognitive functions, which they explained in more detail in the mindfulness questionnaires. Their MRIs showed significant differences in the density of gray matter in the brain, which controls functions such as learning, memory, and the response to stress.
THE IMAGES REVEALED THE FOLLOWING:
– Higher density of gray matter within the hippocampus, the area of the brain that controls learning and memory.
- Changes within the areas of the brain responsible for compassion, self-awareness and contemplation.
– Decrease of the density of gray matter in the amygdala, which controls anxiety and stress response.
As this study shows, by practicing meditation and mindfulness, we can increase plasticity in the brain, essentially reconnecting our minds. We have the power to control our responses to the world around us, as well as our thoughts. In fact, mindfulness helps unlock this incredible power within us.
3 - FULL ATTENTION CAN ALSO HELP REDUCE STRESS
Professor J. David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study showing that you don't need to practice meditation for years to reap the benefits. He found that just 25 minutes of mindful meditation over three days can provide a significant reduction in stress.
Creswell and his team conducted a study that included 66 people between the ages of 18 and 30. The first group of participants completed a short meditation program, which included 25 minutes of mindfulness exercises for three consecutive days. The meditation group participated in breathing exercises designed to bring their awareness to the present moment and even to the mind. The other group used the three days to read poetry designed to increase problem-solving skills.
To measure their results, all participants in both groups had to complete speech and math exercises in front of strict-looking raters. All of the people in the study had to report their stress levels during activities, as well as provide saliva samples to measure cortisol.
- The meditation group reported lower levels of stress during homework, showing how quickly meditation can work on the brain. After just three days, the participants noticed these benefits.
- However, the meditation group showed higher levels of cortisol, which contradicted the response the research team expected.
Creswell said the following:
“When you initially learn mindfulness mediation practices, you have to work on it cognitively, especially during a stressful task… these cognitive efforts can make the task slow.sit less stressful, but they can also have physiological costs with increased cortisol production ”.
The research team focuses on making mindfulness practices less cognitively demanding in studies so that cortisol levels decrease. While more study is needed, it shows that people can feel the benefits of meditation in a short period of time. Although their cortisol levels may not reflect how they feel, the importance lies in the improvements they see in their mental states.
TIPS FOR PRACTICING FULL ATTENTION DAILY
In addition to meditation, try these techniques to stay more present in your everyday life:
-Focus on your surroundings. Many of us get caught up in our thoughts. But perhaps by raising awareness in our immediate environment, many of our concerns will vanish. We do not know what tomorrow will bring, and we cannot control the past. However, we can find comfort in grounding ourselves in the here and now.
-Test positive affirmations. When you find that your mind is working in overdrive with worries, say phrases like "Everything is fine" or "I am safe, happy and calm." If you tell your brain something over and over again, it will eventually start to believe it.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON HOW CAREFUL ATTENTION CAN HEAL YOUR BRAIN
Mindfulness, like everything else, requires constant practice to observe any benefits. However, as the stress reduction study shows, you can start to see results in just three days! We must take care of our brains if we want to live a happy and healthy life. In addition, practicing mindfulness can improve our mental health exponentially.
Studies show that mindfulness can help reduce stress, improve depression symptoms, and increase learning and memory abilities. If you don't have a meditation practice, be sure to incorporate one into your routine. Then see how quickly your mindset will change!