Harvard Women's Health Watch

Mindfulness in a hectic world

Learning to focus on the present can help calm both body and mind.

Most of us are multitaskers. It's what we do to accomplish everything we expect of ourselves — working, volunteering, helping overextended children, troubled partners, grieving friends, or aging parents. Then there are concerns about the economy and the world situation. The result? We feel pressured, stressed, and unable to concentrate. We rush through activities without paying attention, snack and overeat without noticing, and listen to friends or colleagues without really hearing them. One antidote is to practice mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future or getting caught up in making judgments about what's happening. The cultivation of mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, but most religions include some practice aimed at shifting our thoughts away from distractions or preoccupations toward an appreciation of the moment. And mounting scientific evidence suggests it can increase enjoyment of life and improve emotional and physical health. Mindfulness techniques can help relieve stress and alleviate conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal difficulties. People who practice mindfulness say they're less preoccupied with success and self-esteem and more open to deep connections with others. Many psychotherapists now incorporate mindfulness practices in the treatment of problems such as depression, substance abuse, couples' conflicts, and anxiety disorders. Mindfulness doesn't replace traditional therapies and medications, but it may help these treatments work better.

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