Mindfulness training has been repeatedly shown to have significant benefits for the individual including improving mental health and wellbeing. It is quite remarkable how ubiquitously effective it is. This suggests that there probably are underlying, mediating, effects of mindfulness that produce its beneficial effects. Although there has been much speculation, it isn’t known exactly what these mediating effects are.
Today’s Research News article, “How do mindfulness-based cognitive therapy and mindfulness-based stress reduction improve mental health and wellbeing? A systematic review and meta-analysis of mediation studies”
summarizes the research on the nature of the intermediaries between mindfulness and mental health and wellbeing and provides suggestive evidence of just how mindfulness training might work.
One mechanism identified is simple and direct. Increases in mindfulness itself can have direct associations with improvements in mental health and wellbeing. Just being in touch with the present moment appears to be sufficient to help. But it also appears that there are secondary consequences of mindfulness training that also influence mental health and wellbeing.
Rumination is characteristic of a number of mental health issues. The individual constantly and persistently replays troubling events or feelings from the past, maintaining and reinforcing their negative emotional effects. The focus on the present moment produced by mindfulness training is an antidote to rumination. Rumination requires a focus on the past. Shifting focus to the present automatically interferes with rumination and may underlie in part the effectiveness on mindfulness training on mental health and wellbeing.
Worry is also characteristic of a number of mental health issues. The individual persistently thinks about possible troubling events or feelings in the future. Worry requires a focus on the future to project the remote possibility of catastrophic events. The focus on the present moment produced by mindfulness training is an antidote to worry. One cannot be simultaneously paying focused attention to the present moment and projecting into the future. This undercuts the ability to worry.
Mindfulness training also tends to promote self-compassion; having loving kindness toward oneself. This induces greater acceptance for one’s problems. In addition, when feeling loving toward oneself, it is impossible to simultaneously have the self-hatred or low self-worth that is so characteristic of mental health issues.
A final possible contributory factor to mindfulness training’s ability to improve mental health and wellbeing is a mindfulness induced increase in psychological flexibility. The individual is better able to see their issues from different perspectives, producing greater understanding and acceptance.
Mindfulness training produces many positive effects. Sorting through which ones are the underlying mediators to improved mental health and wellbeing is important. But, far more important is that mindfulness training works and can be very helpful to people who are suffering from psychological issues.