Mindfulness is a term that has seen an explosion in popularity in western culture over the past decade. This concept refers to systematically paying attention to, or being aware of, what is happening in the present moment, on purpose, and without judgement. When we are being mindful, we become aware of thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and aspects of our environment that often go unnoticed. For most of us, our default state of mind lacks a true awareness of the present moment. Instead, we spend most of our lives lost in thoughts, either reliving the past or preparing for an imagined future. While this has some obvious practical utility, spending too much time in these mental activities can cause us to miss or ignore many of the cognitive, emotional, and even physical experiences that make up our daily lives.
Unfortunately, our society is rife with activities and gadgets that stand in the way of being mindful. Most of us are spending more time in front of screens, on social media, surrounded by distractions, and constantly in a rush to get things done. This persistent state of “doing” contributes to the mind’s tendency to drift away from the present moment, and over time, can negatively impact our physical and mental wellbeing. For instance, it tends to contribute to chronic stress, tension, sleeping difficulties, depression, anxiety, and even to cognitive inefficiencies like difficulty with attention and memory. Regular mindfulness practice can help to alleviate these issues and improve our ability to cope with the challenges of life.
Mindfulness is a skill that is developed gradually over a period of time and requires patience and dedication. While instructions may appear simple at first (practitioners are directed to sit upright, close their eyes, center attention on the breath, and notice and let go of thoughts), this is a powerful practice. With repetition, it gradually quiets the incessant mental chatter, calms the mind, and provides a sense of clarity in our daily lives. This in turn, can lead to a variety of benefits, including decreased feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, as well as improved attention, working memory, and cognitive flexibility. At Community Neuropsychology, we can provide our patients with referrals to therapists who incorporate mindfulness into their practice as well as other general mindfulness community resources. There are also numerous excellent resources available online and in a book format that can be found through common online search engines.
— Julia Novitski, Ph.D.