It’s been known for thousands of years that mindfulness, like all kinds of meditation, can help you relax.
But mindfulness does much more than that — it actually changes the structure and function of your brain.
With the latest neuroimaging techniques, these changes can now be tracked and measured.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University sifted through over 20,000 mindfulness meditation studies and concluded that its best use was for anxiety, depression, and pain management.
Its benefits extend to mental disorders of all kinds including generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, panic disorder, agoraphobia, depression, and addictions.
Here are some of the amazing ways mindfulness meditation improves your brain and mental well-being.
Mindfulness Meditation Rewires the Anxious Brain
Repeated studies have demonstrated that meditation can rewire how the brain responds to stress.
Any habit is easy to do (and hard to stop doing) because you have created a strong neural pathway for that activity.
The same holds true for your patterns of self-talk and the 50,000 or so thoughts you have every day.
However, your brain has an endless capacity to change, known as neuroplasticity.
Regularly practicing mindfulness meditation actually rewires your brain to be more focused.
Mindfulness trains you to view your thoughts differently.
You learn to recognize and stop “mental time travel” — worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.
Instead of following a worrying thought down the path of all possible negative outcomes, you learn to recognize it for what it is — one thought — and then let it go.
This trains your brain to be less anxious.
Mindfulness Balances Brain Chemicals
A mindfulness practice changes your levels of brain chemicals.
It increases levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter essential for feeling happy and relaxed.
If you are anxious, easily overstimulated, overwhelmed and stressed out, you are probably low in GABA.
Mindfulness also elevates mood by increasing levels of serotonin, another neurotransmitter vital to happiness.
At the same time, mindfulness meditation reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol which otherwise significantly contributes to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and memory loss.
Mindfulness Meditation Builds a Better Brain
Meditation can built a bigger, healthier brain.
The brains of regular meditators show increases in the amount of gray matter, the volume of the hippocampus, and the thickness of the cortex.
Conversely, the size of the amygdala, the area of the brain region associated with fear, anxiety, and stress, decreases and becomes less reactive.
It also improves neural connections between various areas of the brain.