Mindfulness: when will I see the benefits?

Registered Nurse and Mindfulness Expert at Bupa UK
02 September 2016
A young girl blowing bubbles

If you’ve recently started to practise mindfulness, you’ve probably got some questions about timing. How long should I practise it for and how often? Does it get easier over time? What happens if I don’t keep it up?

How long and how often should I practise?

This isn’t an easy question to answer. There are no set rules on how long each session should be – no rights and wrongs. When asked how long a person should practise each time, one world expert on mindfulness said, ‘How should I know?’

When it comes to practising mindfulness, most experts say that anything is better than nothing. Research shows that practising for even just a few seconds a day increases our concentration, focus and effectiveness at work. And the more you do, the more effect it has.

You may feel you don’t have time to be mindful, but most of us can find at least three minutes during a day. If you’re new to building mindfulness into your life, try doing it for 10 to 15 minutes, once or twice a day. As you become more practised, this time may increase until you’re doing it for 45 minutes.

What’s important is to get into a routine, to practise mindfulness every day, even if you only have a small amount of time. Find a time of day that works for you, make a realistic commitment of time and stick to it. Ten minutes of focussed attention is more beneficial than a half-hearted 45 minutes or a promise to practise that never happens.

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What if I’m stressed or depressed?

You may be using mindfulness as a way of treating stress or depression. Your therapist will talk to you about how much time you’ll need to see benefits. In some programmes you’ll need to commit to 45 minutes a day to get the best results. Eight week programmes of mindfulness based stress reduction, and mindfulness based cognitive therapy have been shown to work. It can be hard to find that time, but hopefully you’ll feel it’s worth it to see your condition improve.

Does mindfulness get easier over time?

Developing a habit of mindfulness is like beginning a new activity such as running. When you begin you may start by combining walking with running. Gradually you walk less and run more until eventually you’re running comfortably.

So it is with mindfulness, a regular practice helps you improve. When we do something that makes us feel good, a happy chemical called dopamine is released. This helps us to try it again to get the same happy feeling and we can then build up a habit. But dopamine is addictive. This is why we can build up habits which aren’t good for us such as overeating, drinking too much alcohol or gambling. Serotonin, another happy chemical, balances out the negative effects of dopamine. Mindfulness has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in the body. This makes us less impulsive and more aware, and so able to break negative habits and develop positive habits.

What if I don't keep it up?

Because of the way our brains work, if we don’t keep exercising our minds we’ll revert back to our old habits. So, just as if you stop running for a while you have to work hard to regain your former position, so it is with mindfulness. If you get out of the habit you may have to build up again from the start.

It’s good to think about how you can build mindfulness into your life. But try not to get too caught up in the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it. That would have the potential to dilute the positives mindfulness can bring to the quality of our lives.

Mindfulness is a great way to nurture your mental health. Our health insurance allows you to skip GP referral in some cases, and speak straight to a consultant.

Jane Bozier
Registered Nurse and Mindfulness Expert at Bupa UK

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