Why You Should Try Mindfulness
For many, 2021 has not been the magic cure for 2020. Last year we were dropped into an alternate universe of COVID-19, world wide protest, seemingly unending political ads and a national election. So far it seems like 2021 is a carry over from 2020. With the world seemingly upside down, new work/home blurred lines, nationwide lockdowns and safety mandates it’s no wonder stress and anxiety levels are on the rise. Add to that your own personal struggles and it’s natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious, or out of control. So, short of finding COVID’s instant cure, creating unity and harmony in the world and waving a magic wand to make all of your issues disappear, how can one deal with stress without being stressed? How do we find a moment to just breathe? A moment of zen? Enter…..mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of quieting the mind and body and creating calm and acceptance of yourself and your emotions. Studies have shown that practicing mindfulness is a natural stress reliever. The techniques practiced in mindfulness have been found to help reduce how you respond to your internal and external environment, a.k.a stressors. You’ve likely heard the phrase “just breathe” before. It turns out that there’s a lot of power in it. In a nutshell, teaching your body how to positively respond to stress and anxiety and finding calm is possible. The very nature of mindfulness works to help us stop and reconnect with how we’re feeling.
When we are feeling stressed or anxious our body begins releasing hormones to help us react to these factors. Adrenaline and cortisol are among those hormones released. They help us respond quickly and react to whatever we perceive as a threat or stress, whether real or not. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. This is the moment when heart rate accelerates, breathing gets faster, muscles begin to tighten and blood pressure may increase. Your body is saying “I’m ready to protect us from whatever is a threat”. For small amounts of stress this reaction is fine. The body reacts, you are safe and the body returns to a calmer relaxed recovery state. Great!
Stressors can come in many different forms and are a natural part of life. And, as you know, each person responds to things differently. What may cause one stress may not even be a blip on your radar. But as we’ve just found out, stress is normal, so it’s not the stress, but how we handle the stress that can cause concern. Prolonged stress levels can cause both physiological and mental health issues. From cardiovascular disease to depression and anxiety and health problems in between. Stress can take you there. So how do you prevent stress from becoming another thing of concern amongst a long list of concerning things? Great question. Enter mindfulness.
Mindfulness teaches us to be present. More specifically focusing on what you're feeling and sensing, but in a nonjudgmental, critical way. Mindfulness helps you develop a space where your mind can sit and basically just learn to relax. Through the use of breathing techniques, guided imagery, and body relaxation processes you can create a holistic approach to reducing stress. Broken down, mindfulness teaches you to move your focus from the stressors and negative thoughts and feelings to acceptance and a break in the overall downward spiral of overwhelming thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness’ effect on the brain can be a game changer. For instance, an area in your brain called the amygdala is primarily responsible for how we make decisions, memory, and emotional responses like fear, anxiety, etc. Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduce the emotional responses in the amygdala and help bring about feelings of calm and well-being. Mindfulness also helps the areas of the brain that deal with attention, and parts of the brain that focus on the senses, feeling and decision making and logical thinking. These are just a few of the effects mindfulness can have on the brain. Add to that the ability to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, help with chronic pain, and other positive physiological effects and what’s there not to love.
So now that your curiosity is awakened, take a minute and try it for yourself. Think of it as a mini vacation in the middle of your day. Settle comfortably into your chair and let your gaze softly zone out in front of you. As your gaze softens begin to breathe deeply through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth. Envision a balloon expanding inside of you as you inhale and squeezing all of the air out of the balloon as you slowly exhale.
As you inhale and exhale for the second time, let your eyes slowly drift close. Let your breathing return to a gentle rhythm and feel the weight of your body begin to settle into the chair. Notice how you feel, sounds that can be heard, the temperature of the room. Now focus your attention on building the memory of a favorite place or activity. Do you see it? Remember the smells, the sounds, how it felt physically, was the temperature cool, warm? Focus on the picture and allow the image to fill you with those feelings of peace, joy, comfort, calm, happiness. Take a minute or two to relax into those sensations and allow your mind to rest.
Now slowly let the image fade and become aware of how your body feels sitting in the chair. Feel all of the spots where you connect with the chair, the floor. Notice the sounds and smells around you, any taste that may be on your tongue. Now take a deep breath in and slowly let it out. Take another breath and as you slowly let it out, let your eyes drift open and take a minute to savor the sensations and emotions as they gently flow through your body. Just accepting what you are feeling and letting it flow through you. Enjoy this moment……..breathe.
Let’s face facts. At normal times we can encounter moments of depression and anxiety. Fast forward to the reality of 2021 and we may feel those emotions times 100. That’s the time to pop on the headphones, cue up the mindfulness technique or app. Maybe light a candle or two and find that calming space. So be kind to yourself and let meditation transport you away. A moment to tune out and tune in….zen!
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