26 Aug How mindfulness aids concentration and reduces stress
Mindfulness. It’s become something of a buzzword over the past year or so. But what exactly is it and what can it do for you? Allow us to fill you in…
Put simply, it’s is a mental state of being fully aware of oneself and one’s surroundings in the present moment. And it’s a lot harder than it may sound.
So why has the practice of achieving (or at least striving to achieve) mindfulness become so popular in Western cultures recently? There are a whole host of benefits, but here are two of the main ones:
Firstly, it’s a great stress-buster. By learning to be more “present”, you free yourself from whatever may be worrying you and playing on your mind – the idea is to forget about your ‘to-do’ list and focus on the here and now.
A detailed study by John Hopkins University in Baltimore found that mindfulness can reduce psychological stresses, such as anxiety.
When something makes you feel stressed – running late, for example – mindfulness teaches you to acknowledge the thought but accept that it is merely a thought and doesn’t define you.
What’s more, research carried out by Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, discovered that for people with a generalised anxiety disorder, mindfulness helped ease their symptoms, such as trouble sleeping.
Secondly, mindfulness can massively improve your concentration. We rarely focus on just one task at once these days (how often do you fiddle on your phone whilst watching TV and realise you’re not really focusing on either?), resulting in attention spans worse than those of goldfish! Mindfulness can help reverse the trend.
The reason mindfulness is such a great way of improving your concentration is that each time your mind wanders, you consciously bring it back to the present. A recent study discovered that those who practised mindfulness for just two weeks had better short-term memories than those who didn’t, and their minds wandered less.
And an earlier study by the University of Washington backs up these findings: at the beginning of the study, a group of HR workers were each given a long list of normal office tasks and given 20 minutes in an office (with a laptop and a phone each) to complete them. As you can imagine, it was a multi-tasking frenzy.
Afterwards, a third of the participants were put on an eight-week mindfulness course, another third were also put on a mindfulness course but for a shorter period of time, and the final third were put on an eight-week course in body relaxation.
Having completed their courses, the HR workers were given the same test as eight weeks earlier. Interestingly, the only ones whose efficiency had improved were those who had undertaken the course.
In a society that seems to value getting as many things done as possible, in which we feel pressurised to multitask all the time, learning to unitask may just hold the key to increasing our productivity and feeling more calm about doing so.