The Impact of Mindfulness on Mental and Physical Health

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Every human being has a conscious, we often think of consciousness as being bad. Such as something someone is trying to hide or the feeling of regret because of something you shouldn’t have done. In psychology consciousness and the idea of it is not bad but rather a good because it has multiple layers. Consciousness is a two dimension idea wakefulness and awareness. All of this defines mindfulness and what it stands for. Mindfulness doesn’t just help you feel better, but it also changes parts of your brain. It helps you achieve any goals whether that may be small or large successes. According to Judson Brewer, a neuroscientist at the University of Massachusetts states that “ mindfulness is all about seeing really clearly what we get when we get caught up in our behaviors, becoming disenchanted on a visceral level and from this disenchanted stance, naturally letting go.” (Brewer). He is telling us how mindfulness isn’t a completed concept to understand, you just need to be aware of what you do. I am going to explore the question, How does mindfulness help your overall mental and physical health and the neurology behind it.

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Mindfulness not only helps achieve goals, but it has been proven to help adolescents and change their brain. Although there is no super extensive and meticulous scientific evidence that mindfulness training at schools is going to reduce feelings of stress in children, there are several little things of evidence suggesting that mindfulness training may be effective. Mr. Bauer states how “In adults, mindfulness training has reduced levels of self-perceived stress. Mindfulness training has reduced levels of perceived stress in adolescents with heterogeneous mental health problems. Mindfulness training has also shown benefits on cardiovascular functions associated with stress, such as blood pressure and heart rate, in healthy normotensive youth.” (Bauer 3). In this Bauer is showing how being aware and mindful can help change your daily life and the stresses one person has to face on a day to day basis. To further his point he concludes that “The finding that mindfulness training reduced stress in the present study aligns with prior behavioral studies in adults, but this is the first study to show that mindfulness training specifically reduces self-perceived stress in a general (unselected) student population.” (Bauer 12). In this he is presenting his findings and trying to state how mindfulness reduces stress, so with you reduced stress and a high awareness of your life you are more prone to achieving your goals and be better focused. This is true because without the unnecessary stress added by life you can put that energy into any goal you might have and want to accomplish. There is a science behind it and there are changes in the brain that show this.

The neurology of mindfulness is very complex and can get very complicated, but with a neuroscientist like Judson Brewer it is a little bit simpler. Essentially he states that, “To understand how a habit forms, picture two areas of the brain. In the limbic system, the basal ganglia help us do things like drive a car and tie our shoes. The prefrontal cortex is the key to solving complex problems and making intentional decisions.” (Spence 1). He is stating how the basal ganglia is a part of our brain that helps us do daily tasks automatically. This frees up the prefrontal cortex to learn new things and absorb new information to use for future reference. Another part of the brain includes the amygdala and neural plasticity. Bauer connected neural plasticity, the amygdala, stress, and mindfulness throughout the first part of his study. Neural Plasticity refers to how our brains change constantly throughout our life. The amygdala is a certain part of our brain that is associated with stress, perception, learning, and can be altered with childhood stress. To test this theory that all these parts of the brain can change over time and that mindfulness can positively affect these parts to become less stressful.

In a study conducted by Dr. Jud Brewer, an associate professor of behavioral and social sciences and psychiatry at Brown University and a team there held a study testing if a mindfulness smoking app would make the participants stop smoking. For four weeks, one group used a mindfulness based app while another group use a free app that is supposed to help you stop smoking from the National Cancer Institute. Brewer had said that this is the first study to show that mindfulness training can affect a specific part of the brain and change its mechanism. The mindfulness app helps smokers become aware of their cravings and helps them deal with them while the other app helps to distract users from those cravings. The people who participated in the mindfulness group and completed more sections of the app were more likely to reduce their cigarette consumption which was not found in the NCI group. They stated that, “ This is the first study to show that mindfulness training could specifically affect a mechanism in the brain and to show that changes in this brain mechanism were connected to improved clinical outcomes and we’re moving in the direction of being able to screen someone before treatment and offer them the behavior-change interventions that will be most likely to help them. This will save everybody time and money.' (“Brown University”).

Another study conducted by Tomfohr tested if mindfulness had any effect at all on our overall health. Tomfohr states how mindfulness is conceptualized as a multifaceted, dispositional characteristic that exists within the general population and is not expected to fluctuate within a person unless cultivated through training in meditation. He states how this trait is within everyone in the public, but can only be attained by practicing it or training. He conducted a study to show how blood pressure has been shown to change during mindfulness based interventions. The participants included students from UCSD and all participants were asked to abstain from many things before the tests would begin. The participants were given a questionnaire then after they met with a nurse to check their blood pressure and drew blood with their consent. Participants completed the 39-item Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), which assesses five distinct aspects of mindfulness.

The results concluded that there are a lot of beneficial effects of mindfulness practice which helps subjective and objective measures of physical health. In support of this hypothesis, trait mindfulness has been associated with lower activation of the amygdala in response to social threat. This is also shown in a previous study and is proven again through a questionnaire. His study also shows how further investigation of potential interactions between mindfulness can help us to better understand how training in meditation works to influence the stress response. At the end of their study the results state that, “ A growing body of evidence points to the beneficial effects of mindfulness practice in the promotion of subjective and objective measures of physical health and a composite score of trait mindfulness was associated with BP, such that higher trait mindfulness was associated with lower BP.” (Tomfohr 7). Tomfohr in this statement tried to present how mindfulness can lower our stress overall as it is shown that blood pressure increases can be caused by stress.He is stating how mindfulness and being aware and present with anything you do can have huge impacts on our physical and mental health. Although this study is very concentrated and precise on just blood pressure, it does a very good job of explaining mindfulness in general.

In conclusion, based off of all three of these studies and scientific evidence that was brought up within each study showed that mindfulness does have an effect on our mental, physical, and overall well being. The first study done with children concluded that before the study participants showed more stress connected with the right amygdala activating for fearful facial expressions. Along with that a school-based mindfulness intervention, relative to an active control condition, children reported feeling less stress in daily life. This is the first study to show that mindfulness training specifically reduces self-perceived stress in a student population. Mindfulness training in the present study also reduced negative affect, but did not increase positive affect. They even concluded that, “ The present findings also show that it was specifically the amygdala response to negative stimuli that was associated with reduced stress. Mindfulness training reduced right amygdala activation to both happy and fearful facial expressions” (Bauer 12). The second study showed how even mindfulness apps can help change someone’s turn around from smoking and affect their overall health. Its results showed how people who use mindfulness apps were more likely to achieve their goal to stop smoking than those who didn’t. This can be used to connect to other aspects of our lives. For example, if you use a mindfulness app to just stop and breathe before a big exam or a presentation. This can help your outcome become better than going into the exam or presentation stressed out and ready to just fail. The last study concluded how being mindful and present can help lower stress levels of everyday tasks.

Overall mindfulness has really been proven scientifically by leading people like Judson Brewer and Clemens Bauer. It decreases daily stress levels and lowers blood pressure which can have an overall effect on our health. Being aware of simple things you do can help improve and better your life, not only physically but mentally as well. Mindfulness is just one way to help ease our stressful lives that we must live in order to succeed at whatever we might want to accomplish.

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