Is Mindfulness BS?
There’s no denying it... we are all super f*cking stressed right now. And who can blame us? It's 2020, there's a global pandemic, and soon it'll be too cold to spend time outside.
To cope with rising anxiety levels, many people are turning to something called mindfulness. But wait, what is that again?
Mindfulness became popular when experts figured out that we (people of the 21st century) spend too much time thinking and worrying about the future, planning, daydreaming, and problem solving. This future-focused mindset has made us prone to anxiety, stress, and depression. Enter: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is all about focusing on your present situation without judgment or interpretation—whether that means taking some deep breaths, meditating, or just really enjoying each and every bite of your pizza. This “here and now” state of mind is supposed to direct your attention away from the uncertainties of the future so you can be less stressed about it. Which makes sense.
There are tons of mindfulness apps, guides, gurus, websites, influencers, and businesses toting the incredible benefits of this simple life change, from reducing anxiety and depression to curbing insomnia, lowering blood pressure, helping with substance abuse and weight loss, and even easing pain, asthma and fibromyalgia.
This all sounds super amazing and totally life changing—but is it for real? A recent article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science cites 15 different cognitive scientists, psychologists and neuroscientists saying “maybe not.”
These experts are worried that, in spite of mindfulness’s popularity, there just isn’t data to back up its claimed benefits. A lot of the studies that “prove” these benefits were poorly designed, with only 9% of them including control groups. The article also points to a 2014 review of 47 different meditation trials that found almost no evidence to support mindfulness aiding in weight loss, substance abuse, or sleep. Another big issue with mindfulness? Lack of standardization. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of different definitions and applications for mindfulness, making proving its benefits very tricky.
The lack of evidence doesn’t necessarily mean that mindfulness is total BS. After all, it’s been a Buddhist practice for thousands of years. Today there are tons of people who self-report a reduction in stress after starting mindfulness habits. It just means that you should think twice about shelling out cash for apps, trainings, or treatments with big promises. You also probably shouldn't solely use mindfulness to deal with health issues.
Instead, try out these free mindfulness practices and keep your expectations realistic.
1) Live in the moment
Intentionally focus on what’s happening here and now. Take deep breathes when taking a walk outside, really smell, taste, and feel whatever food you’re eating, or put your phone away when hanging out with friends or family.
2) Take a walk
Seriously. Just go outside and take a walk for 10 minutes. You could even leave your phone behind.
3) Focus on your breath
When negative thoughts become too much, focus on your breathing. Set a timer for at least one minute, sit down, close your eyes, and take deep breaths.
4) Gratitude exercises
Before you go to bed each night, take a minute or two to think about three things you’re grateful for from your day or in your life.
5) Body scan
Lie back somewhere comfortable and focus your attention on one part of your body at a time, starting at your feet and working your way up.
Mindfulness might not be the miraculous cure-all that the wellness industry would like us to believe. But hey, it can’t hurt, right?