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  • Brittany Montes, Psy. D.

What is mindfulness and how can it help me?

The practice of meditation has existed for most of human history and appears to be rooted in Eastern cultures. An aspect of meditation, mindfulness, has grown significantly in popularity over the last several years. Numerous self-help books, articles, and websites have been devoted to the practice of mindfulness. However, given the number of resources available, it can be hard to ascertain exactly what mindfulness is and how one can implement it into daily practice.

While in graduate school, I learned about mindfulness-based meditation in the context of Marsha Linehan’s (1993) development of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. In fact, mindfulness is viewed as a core skill in DBT. In her work, Linehan (1993) states that mindfulness consists of 3 “what” skills (observing, describing, participating) and 3 “how” skills (holding a nonjudgmental stance, focusing on one thing at the moment, and being effective). These skills are designed to improve an individual’s ability to remain focused on the present, thus reducing anxiety and depression (Linehan, 1993).

The APA (2019) states that mindfulness is a method of training one’s attention “to achieve a mental state of calm concentration and positive emotions.” It involves intentionally focusing one’s awareness on one’s breathing, thoughts, physical sensations, and emotions so that one can more fully tune into the present moment. Further, mindfulness involves an element of acceptance of one’s emotions and sensations without judgment. The goal is to develop the ability to notice and then let go of thoughts and feelings rather than reacting, usually impulsively, to them (APA, 2019).

Mindfulness has been found to change brain structures and activity within regions associated with attention and emotion regulation (APA, 2019). Additionally, research suggests that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy results in a reduction of negative thoughts and unhelpful emotional reactions during times of stress (APA, 2019). This is likely because mindfulness increases an individual’s ability to focus on the present moment and decreases patterns of worry and rumination (Wein & Hicklin, 2021).

The benefits of mindfulness-based meditation practice are numerous in nature. Specifically, Wein and Hicklin (2021) found that regular practice of mindfulness-based strategies can improve the quality of life in individuals with chronic illness. Additionally, they note that mindfulness-based strategies often increase one’s awareness of one’s body which leads to improved habits and reduced emotion-based eating (Wein & Hicklin, 2021).

Similarly, Davis and Hayes (2012) theorize that mindfulness-based meditation increases metacognitive awareness, attention, and working memory, which then decreases rumination about the past and worry about the future. These cognitive improvements ultimately improve one’s ability to independently regulate emotion (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

Gepp and Cassata (2021) also state that individuals who regularly engage with mindfulness-based strategies often experience improved sleep, better weight management, lower stress, decreased loneliness, reduced negative emotional states, improved attention, reduced anxiety, and decreased cognitive decline. In their study on loneliness and social isolation, Saini et al. (2021) found that mindfulness-based meditation worked to reduce the experience of loneliness and isolation by decreasing physiological dysregulation and inflammation. Ultimately, this improves health outcomes in individuals (Saini et al., 2021)

When it comes to implementing mindfulness into everyday practice, I often ask my patients to try and look at mindfulness-based meditation in the same way that they look at physical exercise. Specifically, you don’t go to the gym expecting to immediately run a marathon. Rather, you spend months training and slowly, but steadily, increasing the distance you run each time you go. Mindfulness works in a similar manner-you’re not going to be able to maintain full and nonjudgmental focus on the present moment for hours at a time in the beginning. It takes consistent practice for you to feel confident in your abilities and to gain the benefits of mindfulness-based meditation practice (Wein & Heckling, 2021).

Integrating mindfulness-based meditation strategies into your daily routine will likely result in significant and positive shifts in your emotional, physical, and relational functioning. A quick Google search will tell you that there are innumerable websites, apps, and videos to assist you in your mindfulness journey. I recommend sticking with resources produced by universities, training programs, and hospitals. Additionally, your therapist can point you in the direction of resources that best match your personal needs and therapeutic goals.

About the Author

Dr. Montes is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-owner of Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center in Chesapeake, VA.


Creswell, J. D., & Khoury, B. (2019, October 30). Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from

Davis, D. M., & Hayes, J. (2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from

Gepp, K., & Cassata, C. (2021, June 9). 10 reasons why even you need mindfulness meditation daily. Psych Central. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from

Linehan, M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. The Guilford Press.

Mayo, C. (2022, October 11). Mindfulness exercises. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from

Norris CJ, Creem D, Hendler R, Kober H. Brief Mindfulness Meditation Improves Attention in Novices: Evidence From ERPs and Moderation by Neuroticism. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Aug 6;12:315. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00315. Erratum in: Front Hum Neurosci. 2018 Sep 05;12:342. PMID: 30127731; PMCID: PMC6088366.

Saini, G. K., Haseeb, S. B., Taghi-Zada, Z., & Ng, J. Y. (2021, May 22). The effects of meditation on individuals facing loneliness: A scoping review - BMC psychology. BioMed Central. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from

Wein, H., & Hicklin, T. (Eds.). (2022, July 15). Mindfulness for your health. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved March 28, 2023, from

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