Don’t let the fad fool you. There’s more to mindfulness than some new age, “hippy dippy” buzzword that promises rainbow thoughts and inner peace for 5 easy payments of $29.95.
Mindfulness is ancient. Its roots are found in Buddhist teachings of moment to moment awareness. The purpose is to cultivate focus and awareness on the present moment; not what happened yesterday, last week, or what you’re worried about in the future – mindfulness is about being present right now.
A friend and role model said to me recently that overstimulation and sensory overload used to be considered a torture method: in 2018, it is a regular occurrence in contemporary life. And we do it willingly. A growing number of people are virtually “plugged in” from the moment they open their eyes to the very last second of the day when they close them again. 1.37 billion people visit Facebook every day, watching over 100 million hours of video content. 300 hours of video content is uploaded to YouTube every minute. There are more uploads per minute per social media channel than we can consume in an entire week straight of internet use. And over 80% of the engagement happens on mobile devices. If you have a phone in your hand with an internet connection, you have infinite capability for overstimulation, distraction, and mindlessness.
A study was done in the UK that outlined varying factors predicting social media use and behaviour as a hindrance or benefit to wellbeing. One of the determinants for positive social media usage was the level of cognitive awareness in the engagement: one predictor of the difference between helping or hindering wellbeing was the act of paying attention, or using it mindfully.
This is not surprising. Although its roots are Buddhist, mindfulness has made its way into western secular thought, and for good reason. Mindfulness is being used in psychotherapy to help clients with major depressive disorder. Clinical studies are showing its power in reducing symptoms of mild to chronic anxiety. A 2012 study on 6th grade students participating in classroom based mindfulness meditation were found significantly less likely to develop suicidal ideation or thoughts of self-harm than the control group. Mindfulness interventions conducted on people with chronic progressive conditions have shown improved acceptance of daily challenges, easier recognition of thoughts and feelings, and the development of self-compassion. Other studies show promise for mindfulness as a tool in relapse prevention, substance abuse, smoking cessation, stress reduction, body satisfaction, improved cognitive functioning and memory. Even companies like Google, Goldman Sachs, General Mills and Intel embrace the benefits of mindfulness, citing increased clarity, emotional regulation, stress reduction, and creativity.
It wasn’t known until fairly recently just how positive the effects of mindfulness are on the mind and body. Thankfully, research in Psychology and Neuroscience are proving this but unless you’re Buddhist, the conscious awareness of thoughts and sensations was previously thought of as mostly hippie nonsense. But this isn’t the first time discussions surrounding consciousness and awareness have been labelled as such. Who knows: maybe someday things will get really crazy and we’ll start trying out that whole peace thing too.
But in all seriousness – in an age of high stress, overstimulation, mindless scrolling, sensory overload, rampant mental illness and constant psychological noise - we may just need mindfulness now more than ever..