If your family is like some, you may start your Thanksgiving feast with a simple tradition: before tucking into the turkey, everyone at the table mentions something they’re grateful for. But if you find yourself stretching for something to say when it’s your turn, you might need a little mindfulness in your life.
Whether you achieve it through meditation, an intense cardio session, or simply setting aside a few minutes to breathe deeply every day, practicing mindfulness will benefit your health in ways that extend way beyond making Thanksgiving dinner less awkward. Here are seven scientifically proven benefits that mindfulness can add to your life.
You’ll boost your immune system
Ever wonder why sickness strikes when you’re most stressed? It’s not just a cruel coincidence—there’s a proven connection between chronic stress and poor physical health. Which is why the stress-reducing effects of mindfulness are so important when winter approaches. A recent study published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science found that a consistent meditation practice can lead to huge health benefits, including improved immune function and lower blood pressure. So find a quiet place to do some deep breathing, and you’ll have the perfect complement to other preventative measures this cold season.
You’ll feel less depressed
Depression is a serious condition that deserves serious attention. According to Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, one in four Canadians experience clinical depression, and it’s especially important to be aware of those feelings in the fall, when the shorter days can lead to a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder. In addition to stocking up on vitamin D and investing in a light-therapy lamp, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to start a mindfulness practice for its mood-enhancing benefits. In fact, mindfulness techniques are so successful in alleviating depression that an entire new field of therapy, called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), has sprung up around them. A recent study published in The Lancet found that MBCT was just as useful in preventing recurring depression as antidepressant medication.
You’ll be less stressed
With overbooked flights, congested long-weekend highways, and crowded kitchens, Thanksgiving is without a doubt one of the most stressful holidays. And while it’s no secret that mindfulness is an effective way to alleviate anxiety, people might be more eager to meditate if they understood just how useful it can be. A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that a mindfulness-based meditation practice helped people with general anxiety disorder conquer their stress, leading to deeper sleep and better emotional regulation. So before you head home for the long weekend, take a few minutes each morning to meditate.
You’ll be smarter
The goal of some types of meditation might be to empty your mind, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be an airhead. In fact, practicing mindfulness won’t just make you calmer; it’ll make you smarter too. A study published in Clinical Psychology Review found that meditation increased attention, improved memory, and enhanced executive functions of the brain compared to the control group. That means mindfulness can lead to higher grades, better performance at your job, and a lot more to be thankful for the next time it’s your turn to express gratitude at Thanksgiving dinner.
You’ll sleep better
We’ve all been there: you’re in bed before ten, your alarm is set for a generous nine hours away, and your body is begging for sleep. But behind those drowsy eyelids, your mind is racing through tomorrow’s itinerary and rehearsing next week’s presentation. If your overactive brain keeps sleep at bay, using mindfulness exercises like journaling before bed can flatten those roadblocks. A recent Baylor University study found that subjects who spent five minutes jotting down tomorrow’s “to dos” before bed experienced greater ease falling asleep and a higher quality of sleep once they drifted off.
You’ll have a better relationship with food
Have you ever mindlessly sipped a latte? What about eating a cookie on autopilot? If you’re going to eat delicious food—and that’s half the fun of Thanksgiving—you might as well enjoy every bite. That “in the moment” presence is exactly what mindfulness can do for you if you make it a priority. And not only will you enjoy your food more; you’ll also be primed to digest it better. Meditation has been shown to manage the symptoms of numerous digestive issues, from ulcerative colitis to acid reflux, and a study from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill found that mindfulness can help quell irritable bowel syndrome. Which means you can indulge with less discomfort this Thanksgiving.
You’ll have more meaningful relationships
Whether you’re meditating to rid your mind of anxious thoughts or journaling to help organize your jumbled priorities, the end result is deeper self awareness. Understanding what distracts and annoys you can also lead to better emotional regulation, which means you’re less likely to fly off the handle the next time a friend does something you deem inconsiderate. A ten-study meta-analysis in the Journal of Human Sciences and Extension concluded that mindfulness correlates to happier relationships by making you more attentive to others and more empathetic toward their emotions. But those meditative moments won’t just improve your relationships with friends and family—you’ll also have a better relationship with yourself, which is something to truly be thankful for.