What Is Mindfulness?


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Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more fully aware of the present moment—non-judgmentally and completely—rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future. It generally involves a heightened awareness of sensory stimuli (noticing your breathing, feeling the sensations of your body, etc.) and being "in the now."

If you are experiencing thoughts that cause great discomfort or unease, it might be time to begin a mindfulness practice to support coming back to the here and now, which can significantly reduce your level of stress.

While mindfulness has origins in Eastern philosophy and Buddhism, there is no necessary religious component to mindfulness. Anyone with any belief system can enjoy the benefits of mindfulness.

How Do You Know?

There are some signs that practicing mindfulness might be beneficial in your life. You might want to give mindfulness a try if:

  • You are struggling with feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • You feel distracted or find it hard to concentrate.
  • You feel stressed.
  • You have a hard time practicing self-compassion .
  • You struggle with overeating or excessive snacking.
  • You tend to focus on negative emotions.
  • Your relationships with others are not as close or as strong as you would like.

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Types of Mindfulness

There are a number of different forms of mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness-based interventions. These include:

Therapy options that incorporate mindfulness practices include:

How to Practice

Mindfulness can be achieved through meditation , but one can also practice mindfulness through daily living. Focusing on the present moment and quieting your inner dialogue can help you attain mindfulness.

Some ways that you can practice meditation in your daily life:

  • Pay attention : Take the time to notice things in the world around you, including your own feelings, senses, and thoughts. Focus on slowing down and enjoying the things you are experiencing.
  • Focus on the moment : Rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future, try to just take in what is happening right in front of you. Being present in the moment can help you feel more mindful and aware.
  • Try mindfulness meditation : Regular practice of mindfulness meditation has benefits for your physical as well as your mental health .

For those who tend to get "antsy" during meditation (don’t worry, you’re not alone), there are other ways to ease into the practice of mindfulness. Gardening , listening to music , and even cleaning the house can become a practice in mindfulness if you take the right approach.

Focus on the present and quiet that voice inside—the one that offers the running commentary on what you’re doing, what you’ve done, and what you will be doing. The goal isn't to silence what is happening in your mind. Instead, observe your thoughts without judgment and gently bring your focus back to the present when you notice your mind wandering.

Impact of Mindfulness

As Eastern practices gain more popularity in the West, mindfulness has been paired with cognitive therapy . Research shows some very promising results in a number of different areas. Practicing mindfulness, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) have all been found to be helpful with the following concerns.

Anxiety Disorders

People with anxiety disorders , including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) , may experience significant reductions in anxiety and depressive symptoms after a mindfulness-based intervention.   Mindfulness can also be used to decrease anxiety over the future. It can provide a break from stressful thoughts and allow you to take a mental break and gain perspective, among other things.


One study showed that people who experienced residual depressive symptoms following a depressive episode experienced a decrease in symptoms and ruminations following a mindfulness-based intervention, with further gains a month later.

Studies also show that mindfulness can be helpful in stopping ruminations over things that cause stress; it helps people keep from dwelling on negative thoughts.

Relationship Issues

One study found that people who exhibited greater mindfulness as a personality trait tended to enjoy greater satisfaction in relationships and deal with relationship stress more constructively.  

The research also found that those who employ mindfulness have a lower stress response during the conflict and that the state of mindfulness was associated with better communication during conflicts. Both studies link mindfulness with relationship well-being.

Eating Disorders

One study found that mindfulness-based interventions could be effective for targeting eating behaviors including emotional eating and binge eating .  

Stress Management

Studies have found mindfulness to be helpful with daily stresses as well as more serious stresses experienced by those with a chronic or life-threatening illness.   For example, research suggests that MBSR may be effective for improving the psychological health of people with breast cancer.  

The practice of mindfulness has been shown to have lasting positive effects with benefits that increase with practice.

Mindfulness Tips

Learning to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life is not always easy. It may take some time and practice to learn to slow down and live in the moment. Some things that you can do that may help:

  • Try an app. If you are new to the practice of mindfulness, using an app that provides information, resources, and guided practices can be helpful for getting started.
  • Practice focusing on one thing at a time. Multitasking can leave you feeling distracted, so try simply concentrating on one task with your full, focused attention.
  • Go for a walk. Spending time outdoors on a gentle walk is a great way to live in the moment and observe the sights, sounds, and sensations of the world around you.
  • Be kind to yourself. Don't be harsh or judgmental if you find your mind wandering. Mindfulness is also about accepting yourself and treating yourself with compassion. Show yourself the same compassion and understanding that you would to a close friend.

Potential Pitfalls

While research suggests that mindfulness has a wide range of benefits, that does not mean that it is without potential adverse effects. One study on the impact of intensive meditation found that more than 60% of participants experienced at least one negative effect.  

Some possible pitfalls include:

  • Increased anxiety or depression
  • Increased stress levels
  • More physical and somatic complaints

Research also suggests that higher levels of self-focused attention can lead to worsened mental health. This includes decreased ability to manage pain and increased anxiety.  

It is important to note that context can play an important role in outcomes. Mindfulness used in a therapeutic setting and led by a trained professional may be more likely to produce desirable results while practicing alone or in a group without training or supervision may be more likely to produce unwanted effects.

Other pitfalls to watch for include expecting a quick-fix or thinking that mindfulness is a cure-all. Remember that it takes time, may not be appropriate for every problem, and may work best when used in conjunction with other therapies or treatments.

History of Mindfulness

Mindfulness has a long history of both religious and secular practice. It was first popularized by Eastern religions including Hinduism and Buddhism thousands of years ago before being introduced to the West.

More recently, the practice of mindfulness has been combined with cognitive therapy in treatments aimed at reducing stress, anxiety, and depression. The practice continues to grow in popularity as research shows the many health benefits of mindfulness.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.