Benefits of Mindfulness

Why Mindfulness?

The term “mindfulness” is a hot topic these days, with articles and apps and podcasts galore, as it’s garnered increased attention in the mainstream media over recent years. Accessible resources on mindfulness have an important role in informing the public.

How do we comb through the popular claims that might make mindfulness out to be a panacea? One way is to examine the literature, which is also vast. Researchers have explored relevant issues including how mindfulness supports reduction in stress and psychiatric symptoms, brain scans of long-term meditators, and the “active ingredients” of mindfulness. Our goal here is to share a handful of recent research indicating a few reasons you might want to give mindfulness a try now.

Why Now?

Davis and Hayes (2011) offered a review of literature on the benefits of mindfulness, which the authors defined as “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment” (p. 198). In their review, Davis and Hayes found the research indicated benefits from mindfulness in several key areas: improved emotion regulation, interpersonal benefits, and intrapersonal benefits. More specifically, their review and a look at some more recent research suggest possible benefits that are particularly relevant to the present moment: promoting resilience, managing stress, mitigating the impacts of trauma, and increasing focus.


Resilience refers to the capacity to recover or “spring back” from difficulties. In one recent study on Finnish adolescents (Volanen et al, 2020), a mindfulness intervention was associated with greater resilience to a significantly greater degree than a relaxation intervention. Building our own abilities to recover is especially timely as we collectively manage this global pandemic and its social consequences. While relaxation can certainly have a role in managing stress, it did not appear to promote resilience.

Stress and Emotion Regulation

Davis and Hayes (2011) also review past research suggesting mindfulness may play a role in reducing amygdala reactivity. This is significant because the amygdala is the first responder that sounds the alarm after it senses a threat. Managing reactivity helps prevent us from escalating to a bona fide fight-or-flight reaction, and it buys some time for the prefrontal cortex to catch up microseconds later with a more discerning response to the situation.

More recently, Kral et al (2018) also found that mindfulness was associated with a strengthened ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), which is thought to play a role in automatic emotion regulation. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain where conscious thought processes occur, including interpretation of information and decision-making received from other parts of the brain. Integrating the VMPFC into processing emotions may play an important role in responding more calmly and thoughtfully to situations, rather than reacting purely emotionally.

Additionally, Lindsay et al (2018) found that mindfulness reduced negative affect and promoted positive emotions, which can offer a buffer against the impacts of negative emotions. Since increasing positive emotions is often more difficult than reducing negative emotions, this study’s results offer some optimism about the capacity for change in this area. Of note, just monitoring internal state appeared to support reduction of negative affect. However, acceptance without judgment specifically appeared to play a key role in increasing positive emotions.


Trauma is the experience of having one’s life or close family member’s life and/or bodily integrity threatened. Witnessing such an event can also be traumatic. Often, loss of control is a major factor in subjectively experiencing an event as traumatic. Currently, the possibility of direct or indirect exposure to trauma is exceptionally high. Folks who experience trauma may be at greater risk for not only stress disorders such as PTSD, but also other clusters of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and/or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. However, in one study (Kroska et al, 2018) of undergraduate students and students at an alternative high school, mindfulness was associated with a reduction in internalizing symptoms such as anxiety and depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Awareness and nonjudgment of one’s internal experience appeared to have the greatest impact in reducing symptoms. Experiential avoidance (i.e. trying to disconnect from internal experiences including thoughts, feelings, memories) appeared to be associated with greater symptoms. This offers additional evidence supporting the value of monitoring one’s own internal state as well as building acceptance of that state.

Additionally, posttraumatic growth (PTG) is an increasingly studied subject in positive psychology. PTG refers to the experience of positive personal growth and development following an event experienced as traumatizing. In one study (Xu et al, 2018) of Chinese adolescents impacted by the Yancheng tornado in 2016, greater mindfulness appeared to promote greater posttraumatic growth for youth who experienced depressive symptoms after the event. While mindfulness was primarily associated with greater PTG for those experiencing depressive symptoms, this finding is important in suggesting mindfulness may offer opportunities for growth and healing, including for folks who may have had less initial resilience to buffer them from stressful or traumatic events.


Finally, we are living in a time with many competing bids for our attention, which may look different from a few months ago. According to Davis and Hayes (2011), results from various studies indicate that mindfulness may improve working memory, promote sustained attention, and result in decreased reactivity to external stimuli. In a time when we may have less external structure in our lives and may simultaneously be learning to tune out different distractions than we’re used to, promoting our ability to determine when and how we want to focus our attention may be key to maintaining a sense of control and


There is a good deal of high-quality research suggesting benefits of mindfulness, which our community has incredible access to through Burling Library. While we’ve only covered a very tiny fraction of the research out there, we hope this offers food for thought and some reasons mindfulness might be worth your attention. As always, we encourage you to review all research with a critical eye toward rigor of methodology, opportunities for (mis)interpretation of results, and possible conflicts of interest.


Buckner, J. D., Lewis, E. M., Abarno, C. N., & Heimberg, R. G. (2020). Mindfulness training for clinically elevated social anxiety: The impact on peak drinking. Addictive Behaviors, 104, 106282.

Davis, D. M. & Hayes, J. A. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy 48(2), 198-208.

Kral, T. R. A., Schuyler, B. S., Mumford, J. A., Rosenkranz, M. A., Lutz, A., & Davidson, R. J. (2018). Impact of short- and long-term mindfulness meditation training on amygdala reactivity to emotional stimuli. NeuroImage 181, 301-313.

Kroska, E., Miller, M., Roche, A., Kroska, S., & O’hara, M. (2018). Effects of traumatic experiences on obsessive-compulsive and internalizing symptoms: The role of avoidance and mindfulness. Journal of Affective Disorders, 225, 326–336.

Lindsay, E. K., Chin, B., Greco, C. M., Young, S., Brown, K. W., Wright, A. G. C., Smyth, J. M., Burkett, D., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). How mindfulness training promotes positive emotions: Dismantling acceptance skills training in two randomized controlled trials. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 115(6), 944–973.

Volanen, S.-M., Lassander, M., Hankonen, N., Santalahti, P., Hintsanen, M., Simonsen, N., Raevuori, A., Mullola, S., Vahlberg, T., But, A., & Suominen, S. (2020). Healthy learning mind – effectiveness of a mindfulness program on mental health compared to a relaxation program and teaching as usual in schools: A cluster-randomised controlled trial. Journal of Affective Disorders 260, 660-669.

Xu, W., Ding, X., Goh, P. H., & An, Y. (2018). Dispositional mindfulness moderates the relationship between depression and posttraumatic growth in Chinese adolescents following a tornado. Personality and Individual Differences, 127, 15-21.


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