By – Manish Behl, founder of Mindful Science Centre and Mindfulness India Summit
Pandemic and post pandemic have split wide open the issue of mental health and wellbeing to become a mainline conversation affecting humans worldwide.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report suggests that every year, the global economy loses around $1 trillion on account of depression and anxiety. Organizations across the board are wondering what they can do to foster a culture that supports employees potentially struggling with mental health issues.
If you are unable to concentrate, feel alone and isolated, depressed or unhappy, forget things or names and have regular mood swings, then possibly you are struggling with mental health. If you are unable to detach, constantly daydream negative situations which makes you feel anxious and unhappy, then you need help and support for your mental health.
Around 80 percent of the Indian workforce have reported mental health issues over the past year. Deloitte’s Mental Health Survey found that poor mental health amongst employees costs Indian employers around US$14 billion yearly.
Increasing pressure of modern life with factors such as job stress, insecurity, financial struggles, technology, personal and professional relationships, and social isolation are all triggers for declining mental health and rising mental fatigue across the globe. Additionally, social media and technology is contributing to feelings of anxiety and depression, as people are often bombarded with unrealistic expectations, desires and comparisons to others.
What is the common coping mechanism? Laze long hours, overeating or eating unhealthy food, binge watching television or Netflix, hours of scrolling on social media, alcohol consumption, smoking, late night parties etc. All this results in higher stress and decline in our mental, emotional and physical health.
Mindfulness is a great way to reduce stress and overall wellness in the best and natural way. Celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Emma Watson, Hugh Jackman, Katy Perry, Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Aniston advocate for mindfulness and practice regularly.
Some factors contributing to the rise of mindfulness.
Mindfulness has become a buzzword over the years with celebrities and people from all walks of life embracing these practices. From corporate executives to busy parents, health workers and athletes, mindfulness is being adopted as a tool for managing stress, enhancing peak performance, and boosting overall wellbeing.
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Science and Mindfulness
Defined as the practice of paying attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness.
Mindfulness has a long history, originating back in ancient India which later spread to other Asian countries. It continued to be practiced and developed throughout history, with various cultural and religious traditions adding their own unique approaches.
In recent years due to extensive research, mindfulness has gained more mainstream acceptance and there is a growing body of scientific research that supports the effectiveness of mindfulness practices.
Researchers have found that mindfulness practices are grounded in the principles of neuroscience and psychology. It works by changing the way the brain processes information, leading to improvements in emotional regulation, attention and cognitive function.
Study at University of Yale, found that Mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network of the brain, which is associated with self-referential thinking and mind wandering. The decrease has been linked to improved cognitive functioning, such as increased attention and working memory.
A systematic review and meta-analysis, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that mindfulness meditation had a moderate effect in reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress in adults. Overall there is strong scientific evidence to support the benefits of regular mindfulness practice on mental and physical health.
So is this an effective tool to build mental and physical health?
Given the prevalence of stress, mental health problems and the negative impact it has on overall health, people are finding these practices as a more natural way for improving mental and physical well-being, both for individuals and in organizational settings.
Jeff Weiner, the erstwhile CEO of LinkedIn and one of the successful business leaders in the world, struggled with stress and burnout, and started practicing mindfulness. After experiencing improvements in his own well-being, he integrated it into the culture of LinkedIn by offering employee training and prioritizing mental health. The company offered employees training and support to have a healthy work-life balance which boosted their productivity and happiness.
Benefits of practicing Mindfulness
By practicing mindfulness, individuals can learn to manage their thoughts and emotions effectively, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being. This helps prevent onset of health problems and improves outcomes for individuals who are already struggling with mental health issues. That’s why mindfulness has been linked to a variety of health benefits,
Here are few benefits we all can enjoy
1. Self-awareness and emotional regulation: Mindfulness helps individuals become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. This heightened self-awareness allows individuals to recognize their emotional triggers and respond to triggers in a more effective manner.
2. Greater emotional balance: This non-reactive stance developed throughout the practice of mindfulness helps individuals avoid getting caught up in negative emotional cycles and experience greater emotional balance.
3. Better focus and attention: The practice of mindfulness helps individuals to focus their attention on the present moment, rather than being distracted by thoughts, emotions, or external stimuli. This enhanced attention control translates into improved focus and concentration in day-to-day life.
4. Reduced mind wandering: It is found that excessive and spontaneous mind wandering is a major obstacle for sustained focus and concentration. It is also a primary cause for ADHD. By training the mind to focus on the present moment, individuals can reduce the incidence of mind-wandering and improve their ability to concentrate.
5. Reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression: Mindfulness helps individuals to become more aware of their own thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations, allowing them to identify the triggers that lead to negative moods and manage them more effectively
6. Improves sleep quality: Repetitive, negative thoughts are one of the reasons that keep individuals awake at night. Mindfulness helps in disengaging from worrisome thoughts that repel sleep. Fiona Barwick, PhD, clinical associate professor and director of the Sleep and Circadian Health Program at Stanford University found that mindfulness techniques are quite effective. Overall mindfulness helps in improving sleep quality by reducing stress and promoting relaxation.
7. Boosts immune system function: Mindfulness practices can help regulate emotions, especially negative ones like anger, sadness, and anxiety. Research has shown that emotional regulation can support immune system function. So it can reduce the inflammatory response, reduce the impact of stress hormones and support the production of healthy immune cells.
8. Improves heart health: Our heart health is directly linked to stress. Mindfulness is an effective tool for lowering stress, reducing blood pressure, improving heart rate variability, and enhancing overall cardiovascular functioning.
9. Reduces symptoms of chronic pain : mindfulness practices such as deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation can promote physical relaxation, reducing tension in the muscles and decreasing pain levels. Mindfulness also improves the ability to tolerate pain by training the brain to respond in a more non-reactive way
10. Improves digestion and gut health: Stress can have a negative impact on digestion and gut health, causing symptoms such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Mindfulness practices can reduce stress and promote a sense of calm, which can improve digestion and relieve gut symptoms.
On the other hand, mindful eating practices encourage individuals to pay attention to their eating habits, including how they chew, swallow and digest food. This increased awareness can lead to healthier eating habits and improved digestion.
The vagus nerve plays an important role in digestion and gut health, as it connects the brain to the digestive system and influences the digestive process. Mindfulness practices can stimulate the vagus nerve, leading to improved digestion and gut health.
Mindfulness is an important tool for building better mental and physical health as it has a range of positive effects on the body and mind. At the same time, it is also not a silver bullet.
Mindfulness can help lead a healthier and fulfilled life provided one practices it correctly and regularly.