What Is Mindfulness, And Why Has It Become So Popular?

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated June 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Mindfulness and self-care can be essential to physical, mental, and emotional well-being. They can help you relax and stay grounded in the present moment while promoting healthy living standards that can leave you feeling energized and ready to tackle challenges. 

Everyone may benefit from some level of self-care to function each day and support their overall well being. However, it can be difficult to start neglecting self-care when life becomes challenging, whether through work stress or personal hardships. For many people, personal needs are the last on the to-do list, even though making them a priority can be beneficial for stress reduction. If you struggle to connect with yourself and your needs, mindfulness can help you ground yourself, feel present in the moment, and practice self-care simultaneously.

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What is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness is a frequently misunderstood concept. It is often associated with self-care or meditation. However, it is a form of wellness, and there are hundreds of ways mindfulness can be used as a practice. Mindfulness can involve activities that lead to physical, mental, and emotional well-being. However, it is the act of being "mindful" that is behind the practice of mindfulness. 

Self-care is not the same as mindfulness, as self-care involves acts that benefit your wellness. However, you can partake in self-care without being mindful of your actions. Mindfulness occurs when you partake in a self-care activity and do so mindfully, paying attention to your body, breathing, senses, and environment. An example is mindful eating, where you feel the texture of food in your mouth, examine its taste, and consider its texture before eating it. Breathing can also be a form of mindfulness if done mindfully.

Why is mindfulness popular? 

Mindfulness is a practice that has been around for centuries and is often attributed to Buddhist beliefs. Although the practice of mindfulness stems from Eastern traditions and Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness are not limited to Buddhists. However, anyone can partake in mindfulness; it doesn't have to be a spiritual or religious activity. Mindfulness has become popular because studies have showcased its benefits throughout the years, and past research shows it is often effective in reducing distressing symptoms from various mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. One meta-analysis estimating the effects of mindfulness meditation programs found it helped alleviate anxiety, depression, and pain.

There is also some evidence that mindfulness meditation may also reduce symptoms for patients with chronic pain. A mindfulness practice can improve disease control for stress-related diseases such as chronic pain, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Although meditation is becoming more popular as alternative medicine, there's no scientific evidence that mindfulness is more effective than other treatments. 

In addition, some forms of mindfulness, like meditation, have been proven to grow the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory and cognition. It can also increase self-compassion and improve physical health. With so many benefits, mindfulness is a straightforward way to achieve wellness for many people in society.

How to practice mindfulness as a form of self-care

Below are several tips for using mindfulness to make a difference in your life as a form of self-care. You can use almost any self-care activity for mindfulness by incorporating a mindful mindset and approach.

Identify your needs and establish boundaries

One potentially crucial element of self-care is knowing your needs and establishing boundaries regarding them. You can mindfully explore what your body, mind, and spirit require to feel balanced, fulfilled, and healthy in your life today. Mindfulness could also include learning how to effectively communicate your needs with the people you interact with for people seeking to improve their relationships. 

Having the ability to identify your needs and establish firm boundaries around them may ensure that you are fostering positive relationships with those around you. Practicing mindfulness can also confirm that you are committed to honoring yourself through love, respect, and kindness. 

Start a routine focused on you

Creating a mindfulness routine can be one way to start taking positive steps in improving your health and well-being. You can reap the rewards of regulating your body's natural rhythms by making a few changes, such as going to bed early, focusing on your breath, eating healthy meals, and reserving a few moments each day for yourself.

This regularity may also allow you to take breaks from life's obligations to feel rested and prepared when it's time to focus on work or caregiving responsibilities. One study found that practicing mindfulness meditation for at least ten minutes daily was enough to experience benefits.  

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Practice various types of mindfulness

Mindfulness is an ancient and widely explored practice involving relaxation, healing, meditation, and attentiveness. Although the definition may vary from person to person, it often involves particular activities or habits that individuals engage in to relax and rejuvenate their minds and body.

These practices may focus on physical health, mental health, and social dimensions such as relationships, occupational matters, and spiritual pursuits. Some mindfulness activities include but are not limited to exercise, tai chi, journaling, balancing emotions through conversations, engaging in hobbies one enjoys, or seeking therapy for personal fulfillment.

Try mindfulness for stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can be overwhelming, but research shows that exploring healthy coping mechanisms can reduce their impacts. In the study, researchers learned that the students of medicine who practiced self-care reported less stress and a higher overall quality of life. From mindfulness and meditation to physical activity and time management, self-care is an empowering tool to help individuals manage their symptoms in their lives.

By learning practical ways to devalue stressors, deeply listen to yourself, recognize causes for distress, develop healthy interpersonal relationships, practice yoga, meditate, and create boundaries between work and home life, you may feel more able to cope with stress and anxiety. 

Design a personal self-care plan

Creating a personalized self-care plan can ensure you benefit from activities you enjoy. Self-care plans can be designed to meet an individual's specific needs by developing activities based on their interests and lifestyle.

Experts recommend that self-care plans include activities that promote personal growth, enhance social connections, encourage healthy eating habits, and provide adequate amounts of restful moments within the day. While some individuals may prefer to choose one activity each day, others may find it beneficial to do various activities throughout the week to create balance in all aspects of life.

Connect with nature 

Focusing on yourself and reconnecting with nature can have physical, emotional, and mental benefits. Studies show that spending time in nature each week can improve your mental health overall. You can also practice mindfulness outside through practices like exercise, observance, loving-kindness meditation, meditation, and spotting specific colors in your environment. Some people might connect with nature by going on a run. You can incorporate mindfulness into your running routine through the following practice: 

  1. Go on a 30-minute run. Ensure you wear comfortable shoes and clothing for the temperature and location.
  2. As you run, notice five green objects within the first five minutes.
  3. Within the first ten minutes, try to spot at least three workers (it could be a mailman, delivery person, or police officer).
  4. Within the first twenty minutes, try to notice three different scenes (ex: kids playing, a mom talking to her child, or a couple on a date).
  5. Within the entire run, note five aspects of your environment that you find beautiful. 

Try mindfulness before you sleep

You can also use mindfulness before sleeping to relax your body and prepare to fall asleep. One such practice is a muscle relaxation-based meditation, as follows: 

  • Lay down in a comfortable position.
  • Pay attention to your body, starting at your toes.
  • Imagine your toes filling up with sleepy sand or progressively relaxing. Let go of any tension in your muscles you might be holding from your day.
  • Move to your ankles, legs, and knees, repeating the muscle relaxation and imagination exercise.
  • Repeat the exercise for every body part until you reach the top of your head. 
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Cultivating mindfulness through therapy

Creating a therapeutic self-care plan that pairs traditional therapy with mindful practices can create a holistic approach to wellness. Through this dual alliance of treatment, individuals can achieve an overall sense of well-being in various areas, such as physical, mental, and spiritual health.

Studies have found that pairing online therapy with guided relaxation helps cultivate inner awareness while providing an opportunity for conscious exploration and insight. Similarly, coupling cognitive-behavioral therapy with mindfulness helps individuals develop macroscopic perspectives of their behavior, empowering them with greater control over concerns they may be struggling with. 

Self-care is an essential component of human wellness, but sometimes it can be challenging to recognize or approach without the help of a mental health professional. However, science-backed psychology therapies are practical tools that can be used in developing a sustainable self-care routine.

Mindfulness-based counseling options 

If you're struggling to implement mindfulness in your life, would like further advice on mindfulness strategies, or want to learn how to practice self-care, you might benefit from seeing a therapist. Counselors can be found in person or online through online therapy platforms and telehealth practices. 

Many individuals prefer online therapy to in-person options due to the convenience, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness of many internet-based options. Platforms like BetterHelp offer various therapeutic modalities and over 30,000 licensed therapists specializing in various areas of mental health. 

Studies also back up the positive impact of online mindfulness-based therapy. One study looked at mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and found that it was as effective as in-person counseling in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Takeaway

Mindfulness can help individuals achieve wellness but often requires dedication, effort, and practice. It may not feel easy at first to practice self-care and mindfulness. However, when you do, you take a proactive step toward a healthier future. 

If you struggle to find a mindfulness technique that works for you or want to try other therapeutic coping mechanisms for mental health, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online or in your area for further guidance.

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