The Science Behind Mindfulness

Man sitting against a tree with his eyes closed.

Mindfulness practice has become increasingly popular over the last few years. Some large corporations offer mindfulness workshops to nurture their employees’ mental health, often therapists recommend mindfulness to clients struggling with anxiety or PTSD, and many people simply find that mindfulness practice helps them to reduce stress and improve their overall quality of life.


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is often used as an umbrella term that sometimes includes certain meditation practices, but essentially mindfulness boils down to the practice of intentionally and deliberately paying attention to something, such as breath, the senses, thoughts, or an object. Many people use mindfulness as a tool to improve their mental wellbeing and their ability to manage stress of all kinds.


How Does Mindfulness Work?

By engaging in mindfulness, the brain is forced to deautomize maladaptive reactions to stimuli, and regular practice can positively restructure parts of the brain that deal with emotional and cognitive processing. 1  When exposed to stressful situations, the amygdala can react as if under physical threat, sending signals to the body to escape or confront the potential threat (this is commonly known as the fight or flight response), resulting in feelings of fear, panic, physical discomfort, and anxiety. 2  This is a physical response that was very helpful for early humans who found themselves threatened by a wild animal, but it simply hinders modern humans who might feel their fight or flight response kick in before an important business meeting or public speaking engagement. However, through mindfulness practice, the amygdala restructures and shrinks, resulting in fewer stressful feelings and the ability to respond to stressful situations in a calm, healthy manner. 3

Studies show that individuals who have undergone one week of mindfulness training are still seeing positive results in terms of general well being and coping skills six years after completing the training. 4  Mindfulness practice can be learned quickly and is a powerful tool to help people increase overall mental wellness in the long term.

If you are interested in natural approaches to mental health, a career in naturopathic medicine may be for you.


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