What Is Mindfulness And How Can It Improve Your Mental Health?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated March 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention substance use-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use, contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Support is available 24/7. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Mindfulness has become increasingly popular in recent years; you may have heard proponents say that it can bring a suite of positive effects. Mindfulness, put simply, involves focusing your full attention on the present moment, and it can be practiced in a variety of ways. Here, we’ll explore what mindfulness is and some of the benefits it can bring for mental health.

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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the concept of bringing your full attention to the present moment. When engaging in a mindfulness practice, you are not judging yourself, but rather being fully present in the here and now, acknowledging what comes up and accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness can be practiced through meditation, but there are also other ways to cultivate mindfulness outside of meditation—such as through mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful listening, and more. 

The concept of mindfulness originates from Buddhism, and it has been popularized in the Western world by a number of influential teachers including Thich-Nhat Hanh and Jon Kabat-Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. 

Potential benefits of mindfulness

Mindfulness has been found to have a range of potential benefits, including:

Stress reduction

When you’re constantly stressed, it can take a toll on your well-being, so learning effective stress reduction techniques can be important. There is significant research showing that mindfulness can be effective in reducing stress.

A mindfulness practice can be a useful tool for managing your stress levels, and it can remind you that you can always come back to your breathing when you’re stressed. When you’re experiencing stress, you’re likely not living in the present moment, but rather fretting about the past or future. Mindfulness meditation can help bring you back to right now and help you find calm in the present.

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Combating negative thinking

Another possible benefit of mindfulness meditation is that it can help with negative thinking and rumination. Some people prefer to practice mindfulness silently, while others may try a guided meditation when they’re having negative thoughts. Regardless, the main goal is to stay in the here and now with the practice. 

When you’re focused on the present moment, your thoughts can pass by, and you don’t have to change them or judge them. When you’re practicing mindfulness exercises or engaging in body scan meditation, you may notice that negative thoughts come into your mind. You can let them be there without judgment and without latching onto them. 

Mindfulness can help people see that new thoughts come and go, and it can give you better clarity on your thoughts and emotions. 

Managing mental and physical health conditions

Mindfulness has been found to be beneficial for several mental and physical health conditions. These include:

  • Anxiety and depression: Mindfulness has been found to help individuals with anxiety and depression. Anxiety can include feeling overwhelmed or like you’re drowning in thoughts. But, with mindfulness, you have a skill you can use to ground yourself. Sometimes when people are feeling depressed, their negative thoughts flood their minds. By using mindfulness, they can observe these ideas and let them pass. It can also help to take things one step at a time. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment, and that can help people who are impacted by depressive symptoms which can lead to hopelessness about the hypothetical future. The person can instead bring their focus to right now. 
  • Pain:  Mindfulness may also help people cope with pain. Whether you try a guided meditation or a breathing exercise, mindfulness may be able to help. There is also evidence that it may reduce blood pressure and improve sleep
  • Substance use: Mindfulness may also help people who have substance use concerns. Studies have found that mindfulness-based intervention can reduce substance misuse and craving. Mindfulness can help people be more patient and grounded, even when they’re tempted to engage in impulsive, self-destructive behavior. One of the benefits of mindfulness is it gives a person a moment to think things through without reacting so quickly. 

Anger management

People who have difficulty with anger management may also benefit when they practice mindfulness. When you’re finding it hard to control your temper, mindfulness can be a great way to come back into the present moment. You can slow your breathing and stop yourself from lashing out in anger. 

Mindfulness practices show us how to bring awareness to our thoughts and feelings. When you observe what’s happening and have that moment of awareness, you may be able to understand your anger before responding to the stressor that lead to it. 

In addition, in those moments when you are angry, you may consider trying a guided meditation. You can take a step away from the situation and get to a safe place. Then, you can engage in a guided meditation to try to calm your mind and body. This may allow you to re-assess your angry feelings in a more intentionally thoughtful manner. 

Self-compassion

Finally, practicing mindfulness may also help you cultivate greater self-compassion, which has been shown to have a number of benefits, including reducing levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, mindfulness and self-compassion are closely linked. One of the tenets of mindfulness is non-judgmental thinking.

When you’re in the process of learning new skills, including mindfulness, you may experience negative thinking. Part of mindfulness involves acknowledging the thoughts that arise in your mind. You may feel pressured to change your thoughts, but you don’t need to try to modify how you think or feel. Experience the moment for what it is, and then let the thought pass. Practicing mindfulness may help you love and accept yourself more fully. 

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Mindfulness and online therapy

Mindfulness is something you can practice on your own, and it is also something you can learn and use in online therapy. Research has found that online mindfulness-based interventions can be effective for improving mental health. For instance, one such study examined the effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) in improving mental health, particularly depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers concluded that “online MBIs were effective in reducing depression, anxiety, and stress.”

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness for concerns like stress, anxiety, or depression, the thought of commuting to an in-person appointment to meet with a therapist may seem additionally stressful or exhausting. With online therapy, you can speak with a therapist about your concerns from wherever you feel most comfortable and have an internet connection, without needing to make a trip into an office. 

Takeaway

Mindfulness involves bringing your attention to the here and now, focusing your attention on the present moment fully but without judgment. Practicing mindfulness may help reduce stress, combat negative thinking, increase self-compassion, and more. For help with mindfulness or other concerns, match with an online therapist for support.
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