Harvard Health Publications

Being mindful can help ease stress

Posted By Michael Craig Miller, M.D. On October 5, 2011

The hectic pace of daily life and the stresses that accompany it may make you want to tune out. A healthier approach may be to tune in.

I know that sounds counterintuitive. But paying more attention to what is going on around you, not less, is the first step toward cultivating mindfulness, an excellent technique to help you cope with a range of mental and physical problems, including stress.

The practice of mindfulness, which has its roots in Buddhism, teaches people to be present in each moment. The idea is to focus attention on what is happening now and accepting it without judgment.

Although it sounds simple, and even simplistic, mindfulness is a powerful therapeutic tool. It has been shown to ease stress, prevent major depression from reappearing, alleviate anxiety, and even reduce physical symptoms such as pain or hot flashes. As my colleague Carolyn Schatz wrote on this blog a few months back, one way mindfulness works its magic is by improving connections in the brain.

Interested in becoming more mindful? As I write in the Harvard Mental Health Letter, you can do this on your own by practicing a few simple techniques, like sitting quietly, focusing on your breathing, becoming aware of your surroundings, and watching what comes and goes in your mind. You can get more specific directions in the full article in the October 2011 Harvard Mental Health Letter.

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be more complicated than paying attention to what is going on around you. This seemingly simple practice is often hard to sustain in a busy world. But if you make the effort to become more mindful, you may find the results to be well worth it.

The Harvard Mental Health Letter, written for both mental health professionals and all interested readers, presents the latest thinking about how to promote a sense of well-being, and to understand, prevent and treat mental distress.

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