How Does Mindfulness Change The Brain?


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This article is evidence-based, verified by Dr. Ahmed Zayed

In 2017, approximately 17.3 million Americans reported experiencing depression, whereas anxiety has been reported to affect 40 million Americans each year.

And while there are some effective treatment methods such as antidepressants and cognitive behavior therapy, unfortunately, not all patients can benefit from their use, which brings us to the importance of practicing mindfulness.  

Not only is practicing mindfulness shown positive effects within depression and anxiety patients, but it also has shown multiple beneficial effects on the brain in general, within healthy individuals as well.

Today we are here to explore the ways in which mindfulness is changing your brain for the better. 

Which brain regions are affected by mindfulness? 

Science has shown that five main brain areas are affected positively by practicing mindfulness every day. You will be surprised at how much a simple mindfulness training can change both the anatomy and the physiology of your brain. Let’s have a look into which brain areas we are talking about, shall we? 

  • Left Hippocampus 

Thanks to the left hippocampus, we are able to learn, store our memories, and be able to show empathy as well as being self-aware at every moment. Thanks to mindfulness, the left hippocampus is able to grow in volume, while its gray-matter density increases, nurturing all of these important brain functions. 

By practicing mindfulness, you will be able to improve your learning abilities, memory, and emotions by increasing your left hippocampus. Mindfulness can help the elderly who are often facing the issues of memory loss and decreased the ability to learn, as well as anyone who is looking forward to improving these important brain functions. 

  • Posterior Cingulate 

The posterior cingulate to has an important cognitive function, while also being associated with empathy, compassion, and perspective-taking. In addition, it has been associated with mind-wandering or the wandering thoughts that each one of us is experiencing throughout the day and self-relevance.  

Mindfulness helps the posterior cingulate to grow stronger and bigger by increasing its density, thus helping eliminate the frequent wandering thoughts in order to maximize productivity. You will also become better at offering empathy and compassion when needed. 

  • Pons 

Practicing mindfulness helps strengthen one of the most significant brain parts – the pons. The pons is where most neurotransmitters in the brain are produced, while it is also included in regulating the sleep cycle, facial expressions, but also basic physical functioning and processing sensory input.  

The growth of the pons through mindfulness will reflect positively on your mood (through the increased production of serotonin), your sleep cycle (through the increased production of melatonin), and help increase your ability to remain centered while dealing with stressful situations, various emotions, and activities throughout the day. 

  • The Temporal Parietal Junction 

And the last brain part that mindfulness helps strengthen it up is the temporal-parietal junction (TPJ). The TPJ supports our sense of empathy, perspective, and self-awareness. When these functions are combined with the many positive effects of mindfulness, we get the recipe that helps us become a better version of ourselves, working on all of these important aspects of our life that, in fact, make us human.

Here, we can also add the positive effects that we discussed in part about the posterior cingulate as both brain parts have similar functions. 

  • Amygdala 

And last but not least important is the amygdala. The amygdala, unlike the four previously mentioned brain parts, is the only brain part that instead of growing, is shrinking due to practicing mindfulness.

But not to worry – that is exactly the effect that we are looking for when it comes to the amygdala. You see, the smaller the amygdala is, the less susceptible we are to anxiety, stress, and fear, which is what we opt to get with practicing mindfulness. 

The amygdala is the brain part that basically represents the epicenter of where the flight-or-fight response. Once activated, the individual is experiencing a range of physical and emotional symptoms as a result, with a focus on stress, fear, and frustration, among many others. 

So the smaller it is, the less active it is, and the less frequent are these unwanted emotions.  

Scientific research published in 2011 investigated the effects of practicing mindfulness on a daily basis. What it discovered was that eight weeks of mindfulness training, with an average of 27 minutes of mindfulness training a day, was enough to see the first signs of the shrinkage of the amygdala, which are some amazing results if you are asking us! 

The positive effects of mindfulness 

All on all – mindfulness has many great effects on your body and mind. Practicing mindfulness can help eliminate some of the biggest health issues, including high blood pressure, stress, chronic pain, sleep issues, gastrointestinal difficulties, and even help in the treatment of heart disease. 

In recent years, however, the biggest focus was on the beneficial effects of mindfulness on mental health. Scientists suggest that practicing mindfulness can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety and depression, but also the symptoms of the common eating disorders and even those of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  

A study published in the Frontiers in Psychology suggests that not only can mindfulness and meditation help in the treatment of depression and anxiety, but it can also help reduce the risk in individuals who are predisposed to develop these serious mental health issues.

Researchers recommend using mindfulness as an accompanying treatment method for anxiety and depression since it is highly compatible with the commonly used cognitive behavior therapy. 

Conclusion 

Mindfulness can result in many positive effects regarding our overall health -both physical and mental. There is clear scientific proof that suggests mindfulness being able to alternate the anatomy and physiology of our brains, in order to improve many cognitive functions –  from learning and memory, to how we respond to stressful situations, and stress itself.  

Dr. Ahmed Zayed

Dr. Ahmed Zayed, MD holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. An avid contributor to the Huffington Post and Chicago Tribune, Dr. Zayed believes in providing accurate and accessible information to general readers. With years of writing and editing content in the medical niche, Dr. Zayed likes to think of himself as a man with a mission, keeping the internet free of false medical information.

References 

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml

https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

https://hbrascend.org/topics/mindfulness-can-literally-change-your-brain/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3004979/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6418017/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5679245/

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