Imagine taking a morsel of food, say, an almond, and savoring it very carefully, giving it your full attention. If someone told you that doing everything you can with that kind of attention would help reduce your stress level at work, relieve bodily symptoms like back pain, and keep you from bad habits like smoking, you might think they were nuts.
Yet that’s exactly what the practice of mindfulness does say practitioners like Buddhists, and increasingly, there’s clinical research to back it up.
What is mindfulness? It’s the act of being aware of the moment — of what you’re thinking and feeling, both emotionally and physically, from one moment to the next. There can be a spiritual component, but anyone, regardless of their religion, can benefit.
Awareness of the moment is supposed to move us away from both regret for the past and anxiety about the future. And in addition to those thoughts that often cloud our mind, throw in a job full of emails, ringing phones and irritating co-workers and the modern person’s stress levels are sky high. To hear about a study proving its effectiveness in reducing stress, read more
When stressed-out historian and former professor Lillian Waugh at West Virginia University was invited to participate in a study on mindfulness, she was part of the group that was taught techniques to cultivate it — yoga poses, breathing methods and stretches. Waugh's group improved in ways that the other group, who were only handed informational pamphlets on stress, did not. Her group had significantly fewer daily hassles, psychological distress and significantly fewer medical symptoms as a result.
"We taught them how to recognize sources of stress, how stress impacts them, and then what they could do to come out of the vicious cycle of stress reactivity," says lead researcher Kimberly Williams.
I’ve practiced meditation pretty regularly for about year, and although I can still be a stress case, thanks to that simple idea — just to pay attention to the moment without panic — I can get myself out of almost any overwhelming moment if I remember what to do. Just because something is simple, however, doesn’t mean it’s easy. But if practicing mindfulness techniques can relieve all those stress symptoms, it’s definitely better than lighting up, drinking or freaking out.