In our culture today it can be deceptively easy to get caught up in the rat race of achieving ambitious goals and chasing accomplishments. Mindfulness, however, is able to slow down our pace and help us stay grounded with new perspectives. As pre-med students shouldering many responsibilities, we can all benefit from worrying less about past mistakes or stressful things that need to be done in the future. This is where mindfulness comes in. By cultivating the ability to control our attention and awareness, we can resist being overcome by emotions and wandering thoughts.
Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing full awareness to your current mental and physical experiences (Moore, 2022). There are many examples of mindfulness producing positive changes in the brain. Research on a group of participants who completed an 8-week MBSR course shows that they exhibited increases in “regional gray matter density” (Hölzel, 2011). Grey matter areas in the brain have been linked to attention and memory, and two areas of the brain that have been shown to be significantly affected by mindfulness are the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus. The anterior cingulate cortex is associated with self regulation, while the hippocampus has been associated with emotion and memory (Congelton, 2021).
Similarly, changing our thoughts and focusing more on the present can greatly benefit our mental health, which in turn can improve our physical health. Despite many people’s efforts to live a healthy lifestyle–including working out and eating and sleeping well–too often do they forget the effects of stress and the importance of managing it. Many of these people who, despite seemingly ‘doing everything right’, will come in to see doctors for certain aches and pains just as much as those who have horrible diets and do not take care of themselves. This has a lot to do with high levels of stress in their lives–whether this is caused by jobs, school, relationships, or simply negative thoughts. It is important to focus on managing this stress in order to keep ourselves mentally and physically healthy, and mindfulness and meditation can help accomplish this.
When practicing mindfulness, it is important to recognize that our everyday experiences are multifaceted and can contribute to a variety of different emotions and sensations. However, the efficacy of mindfulness lies in its ability to empower us to change the emotional impact of an experience by controlling exactly where we place our attention.
Congleton, C., Holzel, B. K., & Lazar, S. W. (2021, August 30). Mindfulness can literally change your brain. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://hbr.org/2015/01/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brain
Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry research, 191(1), 36–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
Written By: Mariam Trichas
Edited By: Dhwani Bharvad