What is mindfulness, exactly? Mindfulness can be defined as the ability to be fully aware and present in the current moment, and to not become easily overwhelmed by what is going on around us. Everyone has the ability to be mindful, and with practice, it can become a healthy coping mechanism when things are stressful.
Stress and anxiety can be sneaky and manifest in very physical ways. Things like GI discomfort, shakiness, headaches, low energy levels, mood disturbances, and chest pain can physical signs of stress and anxiety. Coming from someone who will get nauseous (and absolutely hates throwing up) from anxiety in the mildest of circumstances, it can become debilitating. The physical symptoms we feel in these situations can be attributed to the body’s fight or flight response. Basically, your body begins to sense danger in situations (and sometimes there isn’t any, and it happens anyway – hence me becoming nauseous right before I walk into a store), and it triggers a cascade of events that lead to these uncomfortable symptoms. If you are interested in learning more about this response, Harvard Health has a great explanation of the entire process here. We have all almost certainly experienced this stress response at some point in our lives, and sometimes unnecessarily so. When this stress response is triggered constantly, for a long period of time, it can significantly impact our health in a negative way. Evidence shows chronic stress and anxiety increases risk diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Personally, I recently started including more mindfulness techniques into my daily routine and I feel they have helped me immensely, especially migraines. Mine are stress induced, and my most recent one lasted the better part of a month, it was horrible. I was given a few different medications to help with them, and they helped a bit, but the side effects were awful. I was becoming a little desperate to try anything else. I have always enjoyed practicing yoga, but never really practiced breath work or meditation on a consistent basis. I looked into the research about it and was floored at how strong the evidence was for practicing the techniques and its association with significant decrease in frequency, intensity, and duration of migraines. If you are a migraine sufferer like me, I highly suggest you try to implement some of these techniques!
To put this all together, taking time for yourself to practice different mindfulness techniques can help improve many aspects of health. I suggest starting small, it doesn’t need to take up hours of your already busy day. To start, maybe include mindful breathing in the morning, and then slowly begin to build in more mindful breathing sessions throughout the day. Or, you could start by downloading the Balance app and include a meditation session before going to sleep each evening. Maybe it looks like hitting a yoga class a couple times a week and practicing gratitude every morning. Remember, there is no wrong way to practice mindfulness, but you may notice more benefits more quickly if you practice on a consistent basis. If you do practice consistently, you might find your energy levels increase, you are getting more sound sleep, an elevated mood, or maybe that you have become less reactive in stressful situations – all wonderful things that can lead to a balanced, peaceful mindset. I wish you well, and happy practicing!
-Alex Grbcich, MS, RD, LD, CPT