Mindfulness is a valuable skill that has the ability to enhance your emotional and physical well-being by lowering stress levels and improving cognitive function. These benefits are especially valuable following such a life-changing and challenging event as a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
This post discusses what mindfulness is, how it is beneficial for mental health and cognition, and how to incorporate it into your recovery journey.
Mindfulness has become something of a buzzword recently, but the term actually describes a simple concept. Mindfulness is the state of being fully present and calmly aware of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations you experience from one moment to the next. The goal is to do this curiously and without judgment or attachment to any particular feelings or outcomes.
We all have the potential to be mindful, but certain techniques can help us intentionally activate our inner mindful selves.
Studies have shown that becoming more mindful is a simple but powerful way to improve your sense of well-being and sharpen your cognitive abilities. Some specific benefits include:
One of the best aspects of practicing mindfulness is that it is something anyone can do without special training or equipment. All you need is the desire and willingness to be more fully in touch with the present.
Consider starting here to tap into your inner mindful state:
Whatever you decide to do, try to do it mindfully. That means that you should try to focus with intention and curiosity on every part of your experience, including what you smell, hear, feel, or think during the practice. Try to avoid fixating on a particular outcome, such as finishing the whole candy or washing all the dishes. Instead, let each moment take you to the next.
If it feels intimidating to begin a mindfulness practice completely on your own, you might consider the following resources:
Over time, entering a state of mindfulness will become a more seamless part of your everyday experience. You might continue practicing specific mindfulness techniques or doing daily meditation, or your practice might evolve to integrate more fully with your daily activities. Either way, hopefully, it will not take long before you start to notice the benefits of mindfulness practice on your mental and physical health as you progress in your recovery from a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
References and Further Resources
Creswell, J. D., Pacilio, L. E., Lindsay, E. K., & Brown, K. W. (2014). Brief mindfulness meditation training alters psychological and neuroendocrine responses to social evaluative stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 44, 1–12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24767614/
Carmody, J., & Baer, R. A. (2007). Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(1), 23–33. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10865-007-9130-7
Jha, A.P., Krompinger, J., & Baime, M.J. (2007). Mindfulness training modifies subsystems of attention. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 7(2), 109–119. https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/CABN.7.2.109
Johansson, B., Bjuhr, H., & Rönnbäck, L. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) improves long-term mental fatigue after stroke or traumatic brain injury. Brain Injury, 26(13-14), 1621–1628. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22794665/
Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., … Fischl, B. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. NeuroReport, 16(17), 1893–1897. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16272874/
McMillan, T., Robertson, I. H., Brock, D., & Chorlton, L. (2002). Brief mindfulness training for attentional problems after traumatic brain injury: A randomised control treatment trial. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 12(2), 117–125. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09602010143000202
Niazi, A. K., & Niazi, S. K. (2011). Mindfulness-based stress reduction: a non-pharmacological approach for chronic illnesses. North American journal of medical sciences, 3(1), 20–23. https://www.najms.org/article.asp?issn=1947-2714;year=2011;volume=3;issue=1;spage=20;epage=23;aulast=Niazi
Kate Ying is an intern at Constant Therapy Health. She is a student at Columbia University.