Exacerbated by the pandemic, around eight in 10 Americans experience at least one day a week they label as “stressful.” While we may be tempted to accept stress as a fact of life in the modern world, the reality is stress can manifest itself in mental and physical symptoms that lead to greater health problems.
Meanwhile, at the forefront of tackling how we deal with stress healthily is the practice of mindfulness. In schools, mindfulness is replacing detention, workplaces are partnering with meditation companies, and sports teams from the Seattle Seahawks to the U.S. women’s national soccer team incorporate mindfulness to keep their elite edge. Meanwhile, there are tons of resources available to the everyday person concerning mindfulness techniques, much of it due to its surge in popularity from its century-old roots in Buddhism.
But what does empirical data have to say about mindfulness techniques? Is mindfulness just a 21st-century buzzword or a tool with science-backed qualities and benefits?
To analyze the multitude of studies on the subject, the American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as “a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Not a trait or a practice, mindfulness is instead a state of being. Here are some of the common takeaways they found:
In 2008, participants of a 10-day meditation retreat reported fewer symptoms related to depression, including overthinking and a lack of focus, compared to a control group.
A 2010 meta-analysis of 39 studies based on mindfulness stress reduction found that the practice was useful to promote the change of processes that are associated with clinical diagnoses.
Boost in Working Memory
During an eight-week mindfulness retreat in early 2010, one military group experienced a self-reported increase in memory capacity compared to one non-meditating military group and one non-meditating civilian group.
Decreased Emotional Reactivity
In a group that had varying levels of mindfulness meditation practice in 2007, researchers saw that the practice helped participants step away from emotionally upsetting pictures and into a cognitive task, compared to those who saw the pictures, did not meditate, and were less focused on said task.
While these studies are limited in scope, there is new research dedicated to minimizing any harmful effects that might come with mindfulness programs, as not everyone will have the same reaction or success. The ultimate goal of their work, led by Brown University’s Clinical and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory, is the same as mindfulness techniques themselves. Mitigating harm, promoting well-being — all while being on the correct path for your own progression.
So, is mindfulness a cure-all for stress or a solution to all of life’s challenges? Of course not. But science supports that it can boost performance, and actionable practices like meditation — one of the cornerstones of mindfulness — can help us navigate many of life’s challenges.
Editor’s Note: Enroll in Jaimal Yogis’ Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness to learn more about combatting negativity bias and other mindfulness practices. The Inertia readers get a 10% discount with code INERTIA10.