February is here, Spring is right around the corner, and time is rushing by at breakneck speed. And yet. And yet I sat there in the winter sunshine and did nothing. Of course there were ten-thousand-and-one things on my to-do list, emails to return, phone calls to make, kids to pick up…but that could all wait. It was time. To do. Nothing.
Five minutes later I grabbed my keys and headed out to pick up kids from school. The sense of calm and tranquility I had gained from just a few minutes of mindful meditation would carry me through the afternoon of errands, dinner chaos, and bedtime rituals. After weeks of holiday stress, I was finally learning how to find peace amidst the busyness of life.
Just a few months prior I was sitting in front of my doctor, head in hands, lamenting about sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days. I wanted her to fix me; to give me a new energy vitamin or potion for instant peace. Instead, she talked with me about things like mindfulness, meditation, and cognitive enhancement exercise. Apparently, my unrelenting busyness and anxiety would likely lead directly into some dangerous health risks: high cholesterol, haywire hormones, adrenal dysfunction, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, heart disease, and more. In fact, according to the newest research published in Health Psychology, mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are equally as predictive of later health problems as smoking and obesity. In other words…the anxiety I was walking around with was every bit as damaging to my future as walking around with a lit cigarette between my lips.
The Lidsen Publishing journal of OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine dedicated the first volume of 2019 to the research of mindfulness and its impact on neuropsychological and medical health. In a review of randomized controlled trials, researchers evaluated mindfulness-based interventions for depression and other quality of life conditions. The results reflected positive treatment outcomes for participants of studies who underwent mindfulness based cognitive therapy and/or mindfulness-based stress reduction. This was compelling evidence to dig in and discover more about mindfulness and just how I can integrate this practice into my daily life!
Seeking intentional awareness of the present can be daunting at first, as does the exploration of meditation. Yet the two practices entwine nicely, as one learns to breathe deeply, slow down, and ponder the beauty all around. Research recently published in Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience outlines the positive impact of meditation on mental health, and the surprising benefits for cognition. Scientists explain that focused attention meditation can help us learn faster from past experiences, and thus improve feedback-based learning and memory.
While mindfulness and meditation seem like a lot of doing nothing, exercise for the goal of cognitive enhancement requires a bit more exertion. Yet surprisingly, less than one might think! Even five minutes of exercise today can launch body and brain into a new cycle of energy and cognitive clarity…which can create the motivation for five minutes again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on. The Journal of Sports Science and Medicine recently published a particularly inspiring article for my demographic group: even a single session of exercise can produce cognitive enhancing effects for middle aged women. The study evaluated 30 women between 40 and 59 years of age who participated in a single 50-minute mild-to-moderate exercise program. Pre and post testing revealed increases in short-term memory scores and serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels as a result of the exercise.
The prescriptive recommendations from my doctor had seemed like just another series of tasks on my endless to-do list. Who has time for meditation? And what was mindfulness anyway? Yet despite all the procrastinating excuses, a new year was a good time to launch a new me. More of a lifestyle change than a resolution, that January commitment to self-nurture gradually began transforming my days, my marriage, and my family.
So why not join me? Ahhhh…take a few deep breaths, appreciate the moment, release some stress, and slow down the speed of this busy life!
Terissa Miller, MS Psy
Check out the research: