You're on a conference call while responding to an email and eating your lunch. Sound familiar? Most people divide their attention between several tasks at once without being truly engaged in any of them. But your well-being could suffer as a result.
If you want to jump-start your health in the New Year, then just be. Mindfulness, the art of being fully present in the moment, may give your mind and your body a boost.
In every issue of WebMD the Magazine, we ask experts to answer readers' questions about a wide range of topics, including questions about what's true and not true in the field of medicine. For our July/August 2012 issue, we interviewed a University of Utah researcher about the danger of using a phone behind the wheel.
Q: I've read that driving while talking on a cell phone is as bad as driving drunk. Is that true?
A: Many people can't imagine not chatting on the phone while driving. But...
"There's consistent evidence that mindfulness reduces stress, depression, and anxiety, and that flows into other things," says Karen O'Leary, PhD, a researcher in applied psychology at University College in Cork, Ireland.
It's linked to physical perks too, she says. O'Leary studies mindfulness as a way to improve women's quality of life during pregnancy, reduce labor pain, and improve their babies' birth weight.
The concept of mindfulness comes from ancient Buddhist meditation, but Westerners often practice a modern, secular form. Usually starting with deep focus on the breath, a mindful person pays full attention to the present moment and all the thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with that moment.
"You don't judge the moment as good or bad," O'Leary says. "You just live it, with the knowledge that it will soon pass." During that moment, she says, let go of any thoughts about the past, the future, or anything other than now.
What benefits does mindfulness offer? Plenty, according to recent research. It can better your test scores and working memory -- the type of memory you use to do a math problem in your head. It may help improve depression, anxiety, and sleep quality, too.