Mindfulness and Health: This is Why it Works

Mindfulness and Health: Why It Works

We’re still learning what there is to know about mindfulness. One thing we know with absolute certainty is that it’s stellar for mental health. What we haven’t so sure about is how it actually works.

Recently, Carnegie Mellon University’s J David Creswell, whose work on the effects of mindfulness meditation has been at the cutting edge of the field, has provided the first evidence-based biological explanation of how mindfulness training works to reduce and affect mental and physical health. Here’s what they’ve found:

When people experience stress, there is decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that looks after conscious thinking and planning. 

At the same time, activity is increased in the amygdala, hypothalamus and anterior cingulate cortex, the areas of the brain that initiate the body’s stress response.

Research seems to indicate that the effectiveness of mindfulness lies in the way it reverses these responses during stress. It increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex and decreases the physiological stress response.

Here is where the link between mental health and physical health comes in. We know that when the body’s stress response is repeatedly activated, this increases the risk of diseases that are made worse by stress, such as depression, anxiety, HIV and heart disease.

Mindfulness reduces the subjective experience of stress. When this happens, the physiological stress response will also be turned down – less of the neurochemicals that are triggered by stress surging through the body and doing damage.

The research around mindfulness is exploding and we are still unlocking its secrets. We probably will be for some time. Without a doubt though, there are a wealth of benefits to be gained from making it part of a daily routine. Five minutes a day will make a difference, but most studies seem to suggest the greatest benefit comes with at least 25-30 minutes a day, though the more the better. For a more detailed explanation of the benefits of mindfulness, and how to practice it, see here.

 

5 Comments

Kat

By the way, after reading this article, I felt more relaxed. I just wonder if mindfulness a way to meditate or a way of thinking in life and work?

Reply
Karen - Hey Sigmund

Mindfulness is a form of meditation, but after a while it could very well change the way you start to think about things and react or respond to the things that happen in your life.

Reply
Diane Conier

Question! My husband died 12 years ago of Bowel Cancer aged 50. I was aged 47 and have 3 sons.
At the time of their fathers death they where 20, 17 and 15. Whilst the younger 2 Seemed to have accepted the death and moved forward my eldest son seems to be trapped in grief, regret and guilt and has suffered greatly over the past 12 years. He tells me that he wants to move forward with his life but has soo much hurt and can’t seem to let go. He has suffered ?? bi polar and personality disorder since his father died but this is stable at the moment as he has had lots of coucelling. How can I his mother help him move forward . ??

Reply
Hey Sigmund

It’s sounds as though your son is getting the support he needs to move forward (through counselling and through you) and he sounds committed to doing this, which is the most important part. As his mother, the best thing you can do is to be there and accept him where he is at. It sounds as though you are a loving, supportive, available presence for him and you can’t don’t underestimate the power of that. The main thing is to let him set the pace and not to have any expectations of him that he’s not ready for. Just keep loving him and being available for him. It sounds as though you are doing exactly what he needs. Make sure you are getting the support you need too. You’ll be better for the people you love if you’re strong and supported yourself. Your family have been through a lot but it sounds like you have been the loving steady presence your family needs. They are lucky to have you.

Reply
Annette B

Yes I Agee. Having suffered from anxiety for over 50 yrs I would encourage him to take a course on mindfulness it has done more for me to change my life then medication and talk therapy.

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When you can’t cut out (their worries), add in (what they need for felt safety). 

Rather than focusing on what we need them to do, shift the focus to what we can do. Make the environment as safe as we can (add in another safe adult), and have so much certainty that they can do this, they can borrow what they need and wrap it around themselves again and again and again.

You already do this when they have to do things that don’t want to do, but which you know are important - brushing their teeth, going to the dentist, not eating ice cream for dinner (too often). The key for living bravely is to also recognise that so many of the things that drive anxiety are equally important. 

We also need to ask, as their important adults - ‘Is this scary safe or scary dangerous?’ ‘Do I move them forward into this or protect them from it?’♥️
The need to feel connected to, and seen by our people is instinctive. 

THE FIX: Add in micro-connections to let them feel you seeing them, loving them, connecting with them, enjoying them:

‘I love being your mum.’
‘I love being your dad.’
‘I missed you today.’
‘I can’t wait to hang out with you at bedtime 
and read a story together.’

Or smiling at them, playing with them, 
sharing something funny, noticing something about them, ‘remembering when...’ with them.

And our adult loves need the same, as we need the same from them.♥️
Our kids need the same thing we do: to feel safe and loved through all feelings not just the convenient ones.

Gosh it’s hard though. I’ve never lost my (thinking) mind as much at anyone as I have with the people I love most in this world.

We’re human, not bricks, and even though we’re parents we still feel it big sometimes. Sometimes these feelings make it hard for us to be the people we want to be for our loves.

That’s the truth of it, and that’s the duality of being a parent. We love and we fury. We want to connect and we want to pull away. We hold it all together and sometimes we can’t.

None of this is about perfection. It’s about being human, and the best humans feel, argue, fight, reconnect, own our ‘stuff’. We keep working on growing and being more of our everythingness, just in kinder ways.

If we get it wrong, which we will, that’s okay. What’s important is the repair - as soon as we can and not selling it as their fault. Our reaction is our responsibility, not theirs. This might sound like, ‘I’m really sorry I yelled. You didn’t deserve that. I really want to hear what you have to say. Can we try again?’

Of course, none of this means ‘no boundaries’. What it means is adding warmth to the boundary. One without the other will feel unsafe - for them, us, and others.

This means making sure that we’ve claimed responsibility- the ability to respond to what’s happening. It doesn’t mean blame. It means recognising that when a young person is feeling big, they don’t have the resources to lead out of the turmoil, so we have to lead them out - not push them out.

Rather than focusing on what we want them to do, shift the focus to what we can do to bring felt safety and calm back into the space.

THEN when they’re calm talk about what’s happened, the repair, and what to do next time.

Discipline means ‘to teach’, not to punish. They will learn best when they are connected to you. Maybe there is a need for consequences, but these must be about repair and restoration. Punishment is pointless, harmful, and outdated.

Hold the boundary, add warmth. Don’t ask them to do WHEN they can’t do. Wait until they can hear you and work on what’s needed. There’s no hurry.♥️
Recently I chatted with @rebeccasparrow72 , host of ABC Listen’s brilliant podcast, ‘Parental as Anything: Teens’. I loved this chat. Bec asked all the questions that let us crack the topic right open. Our conversation was in response to a listener’s question, that I expect will be familiar to many parents in many homes. Have a listen here:
https://www.abc.net.au/listen/programs/parental-as-anything-with-maggie-dent/how-can-i-help-my-anxious-teen/104035562
School refusal is escalating. Something that’s troubling me is the use of the word ‘school can’t’ when talking about kids.

Stay with me.

First, let’s be clear: school refusal isn’t about won’t. It’s about can’t. Not truly can’t but felt can’t. It’s about anxiety making school feel so unsafe for a child, avoidance feels like the only option.

Here’s the problem. Language is powerful, and when we put ‘can’t’ onto a child, it tells a deficiency story about the child.

But school refusal isn’t about the child.
It’s about the environment not feeling safe enough right now, or separation from a parent not feeling safe enough right now. The ‘can’t’ isn’t about the child. It’s about an environment that can’t support the need for felt safety - yet.

This can happen in even the most loving, supportive schools. All schools are full of anxiety triggers. They need to be because anything new, hard, brave, growthful will always come with potential threats - maybe failure, judgement, shame. Even if these are so unlikely, the brain won’t care. All it will read is ‘danger’.

Of course sometimes school actually isn’t safe. Maybe peer relationships are tricky. Maybe teachers are shouty and still using outdated ways to manage behaviour. Maybe sensory needs aren’t met.

Most of the time though it’s not actual threat but ’felt threat’.

The deficiency isn’t with the child. It’s with the environment. The question isn’t how do we get rid of their anxiety. It’s how do we make the environment feel safe enough so they can feel supported enough to handle the discomfort of their anxiety.

We can throw all the resources we want at the child, but:

- if the parent doesn’t believe the child is safe enough, cared for enough, capable enough; or

- if school can’t provide enough felt safety for the child (sensory accommodations, safe peer relationships, at least one predictable adult the child feels safe with and cared for by),

that child will not feel safe enough.

To help kids feel safe and happy at school, we have to recognise that it’s the environment that needs changing, not the child. This doesn’t mean the environment is wrong. It’s about making it feel more right for this child.♥️

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