February 26, 2015
By Anne Foy, Guest Contributor
Many people dismiss mindfulness as being the ‘fluffy’ part of meditation: as something adopted by those who lead certain relaxed and laidback lifestyles and enjoy too much yoga. But actually, mindfulness can be adopted as part of a scientifically valid and proven way of helping to reduce anxiety and alleviate stress levels.  So what exactly is mindfulness and how can it play a part in helping you to relax?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of being aware of your thoughts, your feelings and the sensations within your body at all times, and also of being aware of your environment: of both the effect you are having on the world around you, and the effect your environment is having on you.  This high level of self-awareness has many wonderful effects on both your physical and mental health: being aware of your body can help you to regulate your breathing patterns, and control and understand your emotions in a better and more constructive way. Mindfulness also encourages you to regulate your attention: improving your focus and preventing you from being distracted by unimportant things when you are trying to focus and concentrate on something significant. Finally, mindfulness can also help you to change your self-perception: by having a fluid and changeable idea about who you are, you are left in a better position to make positive changes in your life without feeling that you are sacrificing your sense of self.
There are many benefits of adopting mindfulness in these ways. It can encourage you to make healthy lifestyle choices, such as avoiding drinking alcohol or eating the wrong foods: ideal if you’re looking to make positive lifestyle changes and lose weight or simply focus on becoming more healthy. Brain scans conducted on mindful individuals has also shown that mindfulness can improve your memory, improve your ability to learn, and increase your levels of concentration. Mindfulness can also have a positive effect on your relationship with others, and the way you interact with people (both strangers and those close to you). It does this by encouraging you to be compassionate, to show altruism, and to put yourself in the place of others so you better understand what they are going through. Finally, of course, mindfulness can be used to help alleviate stress and anxiety. 
Mindful Based Stress Reduction
The technical name for using mindfulness to alleviate your stress levels is Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  Long term stress can have a massively detrimental effect on your overall health and wellbeing. However mindfulness can help you to take back control of what is happening in your life and let go of the feelings of pressure, helplessness and lack of control that are all too often signs of stress. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) incorporates several different techniques such as meditation, gentle yoga and mind-body exercises into your daily routine in order to help you cope with stress and alleviate anxiety. Stress is now considered to be a national epidemic. Over 73% of the American workforce has admitted to experiencing regular stress that causes them either psychological or physical symptoms, or a combination of both. Of those Americans surveyed, 48% felt that their stress levels had gone up over the last 5 years.  It is clear then that stress is a problem that needs dealing with, particularly within the workforce. The best thing about mindfulness is that it is something that you can practice anywhere, either at home or at your desk, and that it doesn’t have to take up a substantial amount of your day. When you wake up every morning take a minute or two to center yourself; listen to your body and breath deeply. Practice the same focus and deep breathing exercises when stress arises throughout the day. You’ll quickly find yourself more able to process and assimilate stressful situations, and your capacity to handle stress will gradually increase.
 “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress”, Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-may-ease-anxiety-mental-stress-201401086967
 Mindfulness: more than simply meditation”, Kwik Med, http://www.kwikmed.org/mindfulness-simply-meditation/
 “Mindfulness reduces stress, promotes resilience, University of California, Los Angeles, http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/using-mindfulness-to-reduce-stress-96966
 “MBSR Stress relief”, Be Mindful, http://bemindful.co.uk/mbsr/about-mbsr/
 “How to reduce stress with mindfulness”, Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, http://siyli.org/how-to-reduce-stress-with-mindfulness-2/