In discussing the benefits of mindfulness lets start start by discussing the impacts of being ‘unmindful’ in relation to the stress response and the impacts on the body. We live in a world of potential threats to our safety and survival.  The pace of big city living and the volume of activity and people we come into contact with in any given day is far greater now than it has ever been, it is fair to say that our levels of anxiety and stress have also risen to match the pace of life too. Our primally adapted brain and body would have experienced the activating fight or flight response a few times a week as we encountered wild animals or rival humans as we ran, fought or foraged for survival. In todays world the activation of the ‘fight/ flight response’ happens many times in a few minutes.  Throughout any given day we may experience the activation of this stress response thousands of times in varying degrees. 

When we experience anxiety the ‘threat’ shifts from being a real present moment danger’ to being a ‘perceived or fantasised danger’- meaning we are creating scenarios in our minds or ruminating. The body, not able to determine present real danger from the ruminated variety, dumps all the fight/flight hormones, muscle activation, neuron firing that it would for a ‘real danger’ every time we ruminate or catastrophes a situation. This constant bathing of the system in fight/flight response begins to break the system down.  Over time this can have a detrimental impact of the whole being/person; 

  • loss or increase in appetite
  • circadian rhythm changes
  • increase in the inflammatory response within the body
  • growth of the amygdala which wires the brain for more stress & trauma
  • fatigue and psychomotor retardation
  • social withdrawal
  • impacts on learning and memory
  • increase allostatic load leading to: demineralisation of bones, reduced immune response, metabolic syndrome, accelerated ageing, heart conditions, strokes, atrophy of nerve cells in the brain.

Studies have shown however, that all these responses are able to be managed or reversed through the simple act of mindfulness. By bringing attention and bringing awareness to sensory shifts and the present moment experience, we are able to self-regulating the brain, the physical and the emotional body. 

Mindfulness builds a greater capacity for compassion which has a profound impact on how individuals reacted to one another. Rhonda Magee, author of The Inner Work of Racial Justice, says it’s people with a deep mindfulness practice who can “sit in the fire of the painful recognition that, oh, my mind actually does orient me to people who look like me.” Mindfulness, she continues, “can help us with a lot of the really subtle difficulties of doing the work that must be done to dismantle these patterns and habits that draw us to reinvest in segregation. Public health and racial healing innovator Jenée Johnson says, “racism is a form of trauma. To begin to unravel the harm of racism—the historical trauma, the micro-aggressions, the white fragility that often is a barrier to conversation—people need to have a level of self-awareness, to be able to sit, without judgment, with what is uncomfortable, to be present and aware, and to hold this inquiry with curiosity and kindness. Being mindful—knowing and being in touch with what is going on with you—is essential to undoing racism.” [3]. 

Individuals and couples that engage in a mindfulness practice have the ability to build stronger trust and connection bonds,  fostering stronger relationships and  encouraging the development of emotionally secure children. Key mindfulness approaches are:

  • holding space to have difficult or uncomfortable conversations courageously and being vulnerable for each other
  • by communicating with curiosity rather than judgement, 
  • practicing appreciation and gratitude
  • moving away from perfectionism and into generosity and support

The benefits of a mindfulness practice is not limited to developing and maintaining healthier children and personal relationships, the benefits extend to within the workplace also. “According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, over 17 million working days were lost to mental health-related conditions in 2018 – and many companies are investing in long-term mental health and wellbeing initiatives to counteract lost productivity, along with making the workplace a happier and healthier place to be. Along with the benefits to workforce productivity, investment in mental health initiatives has the power to enhance your employer brand and help to attract top talent – in fact, over half (53%) of job seekers would more likely to apply for work with companies that have mental health and wellbeing policies in place”. [2]

Over the last 20 years I have seen a profound and positive shift toward mental health awareness and the holistic approach to health. I have seen it weaving its way through schools, workplaces and private homes. The contrast between the more mindful awareness and the aggression, fear and violence seen in the racial unrest and global pandemic is alarming and profound. However I am hopeful that as the pendulum swings, so too will the stabilising and healing impacts of a more holistic approach to our personal and collective wellness will become evident. As we move away from outdated modus operandi as a global community, I believe that the benefits of mindfulness will present in  a greater number of  healthier individuals (mind, body and soul), a more compassionate society and a healthier future for the planet and humanity as the next generations embrace mindfulness skills as their ‘normal’.

RESOURCES:

[1] Grace Bullock PhD, https://www.mindful.org/loving-kindness-meditation-may-protect-your-genes-and-slow-aging/ , September 12, 2019

[2] Adecco, https://www.adecco.co.uk/blog/mindfulness-at-work-wellbeing , March 2020

[3] Stephanie Domet and Heather Hurlock, https://www.mindful.org/how-your-mindfulness-practice-can-support-the-world-right-now/ , June 2020