Steve Hickman, Psy.D., Executive Director of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness and William Mobley, MD, PhD, discuss the benefits of mindfulness practices and staying focused in the here-and-now.
Mindfulness can help bring our attention and awareness to what we are doing in that very moment. Sometimes when our minds are stuck in the past, depression can develop and sometimes when we begin to wonder about the uncertainties of our future, anxiety can arise.
Researchers continue to discover the many benefits of using mindfulness practices, including mindfulness apps to help us decompress and de-stress.
From fires and hurricanes, to confrontational politics — with all that’s been going on, it’s no wonder the American
Psychological Association found an increase in Americans’ stress levels over the last year.
Our constant checking of smartphones — with the bombardment of news and social media — can amp up our anxiety. So, why not use your device to help you disconnect?
Mindfulness apps, such as Simply Being, are an increasingly popular way to help manage stress. Using this app, you can tap into a soundtrack of soothing sounds to help clear your mind. (Cue babbling brook, singing birds, meditation gongs!)
The idea behind mindfulness is simple to explain, but hard to execute. The goal is to focus on the present moment, and to let go of regrets of the past or worries about the future. And some researchers say apps can be a useful tool to assist this practice.
“I think they can be helpful,” says Dr. Stuart Eisendrath, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco who researches Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.
“There are a variety of apps out there,” Eisendrath says. “Some of them are just simple meditation timers” to help users stay focused for a specific period of time. The UCSF Student Health and Counseling Center lists several of these apps, including Zazen and I-Qi, on its Mindfulness Meditation website.
Some of the documented benefits of mindfulness meditation, according the UCSF site, can include better management of chronic pain, an increase in self-awareness, improved digestion and higher immune function.
But here’s the rub: There’s no evidence that just using a mindfulness app will bring these benefits.
“Everybody wants a quick fix, they want to know the shortest, fastest root to be mindful,” says Steven Hickman, a psychologist and founder of the UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness. He says just using an app for a few minutes, a few times a week is likely not enough.
“It really does take ongoing practice — just like exercise,” Hickman says.
Therapists say people should be skeptical if they download an app that makes specific health claims, and shouldn’t use them as a replacement for therapy.
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