Mindfulness Research Articles & Resources

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness refers to the practice of consciously remaining in the present moment instead of focusing on past or future events. The phrase "stay in the moment" is quite popular in today's world, and many people practice mindfulness to reduce stress and anxiety. (1) One of the key aspects of mindfulness practice is the ability to accept things as they are as they're happening. Practicing mindfulness helps counteract patterns of rumination and excessive worrying, and research has shown that it can help reduce symptoms of depression in certain individuals. (2)

While mindfulness is a completely natural human behavior, some people struggle to focus on the present moment when aspects of their daily lives cause significant worry or stress. Finance problems, family troubles, and job losses are all "real-life" issues that can cause significant anxiety. Mindfulness can't make these problems disappear, but the practice can help to calm the mind and prevent people from focusing on potential future outcomes.

Anyone can practice mindfulness and incorporate the techniques into their daily routines to help calm racing thoughts and center themselves. Talk therapy uses mindfulness techniques to help individuals with anxiety and other mental health conditions. (3) Some common mindfulness techniques include deep breathing exercises and meditation, and yoga practitioners also use mindfulness. (4)

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What Is Mindfulness? Mindfulness refers to the practice of consciously remaining in the present moment instead of focusing on past or future events. The phrase "stay in the moment"... Read More

How to Practice Mindfulness

One of the nicest things about mindfulness is that people can practice the techniques anywhere, at any time. From taking calming breaths upon waking and choosing to remain centered throughout the day to working with a professional therapist, many beneficial ways exist to practice mindfulness. (5) The ability to stay "fully in the moment" can take some time to perfect, but the techniques can become second nature with commitment and consistency.
Some common mindfulness practice techniques include:

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditations help people become centered and focused. (6) People can practice meditation at home, and audiobooks, apps, and instructional videos are available that offer mindfulness guidance.
Mindfulness meditation usually includes the following steps:

  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position, with eyes closed.
  • Take deep, calming breaths and stay focused on each breath.
  • As anxious thoughts or worries enter the mind, continue to breathe and stay in the moment by focusing on body sensations or present senses, such as smell or sound.
  • Repeat these steps for 5 to 30 minutes during each meditation session.

Mindfulness Activities

In addition to meditation, people can perform many mindfulness activities to help them learn to stay present and think positively. Some helpful and fun mindfulness activities include:

  • Gratitude lists: Creating gratitude lists by writing down three to five things they're grateful for helps people focus on the positive instead of worrying about things they can't control.
  • Morning affirmations: Reciting positive affirmations can help create a positive foundation for the day ahead.
  • Jigsaw puzzles: Jigsaw puzzles require focus and patience, which allows individuals to stay in the present moment while working toward the goal of completing the puzzle.
  • Outdoor walks: Taking daily walks outdoors helps people get in touch with nature, breathe in fresh air, and become more aware of their natural surroundings.

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises can be very helpful for people who struggle with anxiety or panic attacks due to underlying stress. When a person becomes anxious or has a panic attack, the body releases hormones that trigger a "fight or flight" response. Fight or flight responses date back to ancient times when early humans had to make the choice of fighting or fleeing when they sensed danger in their surroundings. (7)
During an acute panic attack or anxious episode, the body sends extra oxygen to the arms and legs and less oxygen to the brain. This can make people experience "foggy" thinking and other bodily sensations, such as heart palpitations and hyperventilation. Deep breathing helps to send more oxygen to the brain and regulate the nervous system, allowing individuals with anxiety to center themselves and focus only on the present moment. (8)

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

Practicing mindfulness is highly beneficial to the mind, body, and spirit. Studies show that, along with alleviating anxiety and depression, mindfulness can help people manage chronic pain by reducing fatigue and stress. (9) Using mindfulness techniques during episodes of illnesses, such as colds or flu, may help boost immunity for faster recovery, and daily practice may help individuals with addiction issues.
Chronic stress that goes unchecked for extended periods of time can lead to anxiety and a host of physical health problems. (10) Stress can cause or exacerbate symptoms of tension headaches, migraines, chronic pain, elevated blood pressure, and hypertension. Since research indicates that mindfulness reduces stress, consistent practice of mindful techniques may have a positive effect on an individual's physical health.

Deep breathing helps promote a sense of calm and well-being, and the ability to stay in the present moment allows people to have more control over anxious or negative thoughts. While mindfulness can't stop stressful events from occurring, a consistent mindfulness practice may help people to recognize their triggers and control their reactions.

What Is Mindfulness Therapy?

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction therapy (MBSR) combine mindfulness techniques with traditional cognitive and stress reduction therapies. (11) With MBCT and MBSR, therapists incorporate yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises into their traditional individual or group therapy sessions.
Cognitive therapy focuses on helping individuals change negative thoughts, behavior patterns, and beliefs about themselves. (12) Stress reduction therapy utilizes specific techniques to help people react differently to stressful situations and lower stress levels in their daily lives. (13)

The main goal of clinicians who use MBCT and MBSR therapies is to teach patients to be reflective instead of reactive when faced with internal or external stressors. Clinicians encourage patients to become aware of thoughts and situations that can trigger negative feelings, which may help prevent automatic negative reactions. Combining these traditional therapies with mindfulness can aid in the treatment of depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and chronic pain.