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Is mindfulness good for you? © Getty Images

Is mindfulness good for you?

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Mindfulness is the new fad for mental health, BBC Science Focus weighs up its effectiveness.

Asked by: Susie O’Brien, London


Not always and not for everyone. Derived from Buddhist teachings, mindfulness means paying steady attention to the present moment without letting your mind wander into fantasies, fears or planning.

You can practice mindfulness in sitting meditation or in the midst of ordinary life. The ‘Mindfulness-based stress reduction’ program claims to decrease anxiety and depression, and increase concentration and well-being, with remarkable results reported from prisons, schools, homes and workplaces. Yet many experiments fail to provide proper control groups and few have looked seriously at negative effects although recently that is changing.

Since mindfulness means facing up to your own fears, fantasies, repetitive thoughts and anger, it can be be deeply disturbing and it is quite common to feel a lot worse before getting better. Stress hormones can increase even when people say they feel more relaxed, and psychiatrists have warned of troubling side-effects including a changing sense of self, depersonalization, and floods of traumatic memories. Mindfulness is not a magic pill and a good teacher can make all the difference.


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