How mindfulness impacts our mind
Updated: May 28
Mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices can indeed influence the brain's structure and function, particularly in regions involved in the regulation of emotions and stress. When used as a strategy for managing anxiety, mindfulness can alter the brain's anxiety circuits and promote healthier responses to stress.
Impact on Amygdala
One of the key ways mindfulness can affect the brain's response to anxiety involves the amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for initiating the body's response to stress or danger. Studies have shown that mindfulness practice can actually decrease the size of the amygdala. This structural change can lead to a change in how the amygdala functions, resulting in decreased reactivity to stressful stimuli.
Strengthening the Prefrontal Cortex
The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as decision-making, attention, and self-control, is another part of the brain that mindfulness can affect. Research suggests that mindfulness can enhance the thickness and connectivity of the prefrontal cortex. This change can enhance an individual's ability to regulate their emotions, reduce the impact of stressful stimuli, and increase the ability to focus attention away from anxiety-provoking thoughts.
Enhancing the Hippocampus
The hippocampus, a brain region crucial for learning and memory, is also positively affected by mindfulness. Neuroimaging studies have revealed increased gray matter density in the hippocampus following mindfulness practices. Given the role of the hippocampus in the regulation of stress responses, enhancing this structure through mindfulness can potentially improve one's ability to cope with stress.
Mindfulness can also impact the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, affecting mood and anxiety. For instance, mindfulness has been associated with increased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a critical role in mood regulation and is often targeted by anti-anxiety medications.
Modulating the Default Mode Network (DMN)
Mindfulness has been found to modulate the activity of the default mode network (DMN) – a network of brain regions that is active when the mind is at rest and not focused on the outside world. Excessive activity in the DMN is associated with rumination and worry, both of which are common in anxiety. Mindfulness can reduce activity in the DMN, resulting in less rumination and anxiety.
Through regular practice of mindfulness, it's possible to bring about structural and functional changes in the brain that can help to regulate stress responses and reduce anxiety.