By Robyn Beckman
Feeling a bit stressed lately? Me too! I mean, c’mon – we are living in very stressful, chaotic and rapidly changing times which is filled by more uncertainty than the entire global community has ever experienced. Uncertainty and constant change can produce a lot of stress – in the mind and body.
You may have heard that Mindfulness can help reduce and manage stress levels, including positive changes in the brain and body. But, how does it actually help us do that?
There is mounting scientific evidence from many sources around the world (for example: University of Oxford in the UK, U-Mass Medical School and University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US and many, many more) that strongly suggests that mindfulness gently builds an inner strength and resilience so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.
Research suggests that Mindfulness benefits our bodies, not just our minds.
The number of studies on mindfulness and meditation has increased exponentially in the past 15 years – mainly due to advances in technology that provide the ability to measure and see changes in the brain and body. As a matter of fact, I am currently participating in a yearlong Research study through UC-Davis Center for Mind & Brain Research – about the Psychobiological Effects of Meditation Experience during the Covid-19 Pandemic. The goal of this study is to assess meditation experience in relation to mental and cellular health as the effects of the pandemic unfold over the coming year. These studies are extremely in–depth and detailed. Much of the research has proven the enhancement of physical and emotional well-being of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. It has truly transformed my life and believe me – I have tried so many things but none of them had lasting change. Meditation is the only thing I have tried that I have stuck with daily and I started nearly 8 years ago. I NEVER thought that I was someone who could sit still and meditate. No WAY. So, if I can – anyone can. It is easier than you think!
Some of the following benefits come from meditation:
- Improvement of our mood, an increase of our positive emotions, a decrease in anxiety and depression, decrease in emotional reactivity, less job burnout, more compassion for self and others and better concentration .
- Lower blood pressure, a decrease in cognitive decline from aging or Alzheimer’s, improved immune response, improvement in coping with the stress, pain, anxiety and depression that so often accompanies illness.in cognitive decline from Alzheimers,
Here are some of the ways in which Mindfulness helps with stress, followed by a meditation for navigating stress.
- By practicing mindfulness (through meditation and throughout your day), you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions. This results in being able to pause and step back from them and not take them so literally or seriously. This means your nervous system’s stress response is not initiated in the first place. Over time, with consistent practice – this can become the default mode of awareness and you are able to allow the normal triggers of stress to pass by – like clouds in the sky or a leaf on a river.
- When you don’t immediately react to a situation – you have a moment to pause and then from a place of steadiness, allow the right action to unfold or use your sensible mind to come up with the best solution. Sometimes, the best action is to do nothing!
- Mindfulness often turns on your “being” mode of mind, which is associated with relaxation. Your “doing” mode of mind is associated with planning, busyness, action, worrying and often triggers the body and mind’s stress response – which can easily escalate into anxiety and panic. We aren’t really taught how to “be” in our society and are definitely more used to “doing, doing, doing” all the time – which also can easily lead to burnout, fatigue and resentment.
- You become more aware and sensitive to the needs of your body. You may notice pains earlier and can then take appropriate action. You also learn to be more kind, compassionate and grateful towards your body. You learn that you don’t have to move the body into pain in order to get results. Forget about “no pain, no gain” – with mindfulness, you listen more to what the body needs in any given moment and work with the body from there.
- You become more aware of ALL of your emotions. A big part of mindfulness is intentionally bringing attention and awareness to the present moment non-judgmentally and you are able to hold them more tenderly; you also become more aware of other people’s emotions as well. This awareness brings about a higher emotional intelligence and you are less likely to get into conflict.
- Your level of self-care and compassion for yourself and others rises. This compassionate mind soothes you and inhibits your stress response.
- Mindfulness practice reduces activity in the part of your brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is central in triggering your body’s stress response (fight/flight/freeze).
- You are better able to direct your attention and focus. You complete your work more efficiently, have a greater sense of well-being, and this reduces the stress response. You are more likely to get into “the zone” or “flow”.
A 7-Minute Practice for Responding to Stress
- Bring to mind a current challenge in your life that is the cause of some stress. A situation that you’re willing to work with at the moment. Not your biggest challenge but not so small that it causes no stress at all. I recommend a level 3 stressful event or situation on a scale of 1–10.
- Spend a few moments bringing the situation or event vividly to mind. Envision being in the situation and all the difficulties associated with it.
- Notice if you can feel the stress in your body. You may notice things like physical tension, tightness in the throat, a faster heart rate, butterflies or tightness in your stomach, tightness in the back, shoulders, clenching of your jaw, a furrowed brow or forehead, perhaps. Noticing any of your stress signals.
- Now, tune in to your emotions. Notice how you feel. It can be helpful to label that emotion (fear, anger, disappointment, frustration, rejection, embarrassment, etc.). Now, become aware of where you might feel the emotion – in your body. Just trying to recognize it as best you can. The more precisely you can locate the emotion and the more you notice about the physical sensation that accompanies it – the better. Don’t exert a lot of effort – just see if it comes to you. With time and experience, you’ll keep getting better at this.
- Now, begin to bring mindful attitude (such as curiosity, friendliness, kindness and allowing/acceptance) to the emotion.
- Try placing your hand on the location of the sensation—a friendly hand representing kindness. Do it the way you would place your hand on the injured knee of a child – with care and affection. Stay here for a moment.
- Now, turn your awareness towards feeling the sensation together with your breathing. This can promote a present-moment awareness and a mindful attitude to your experience.
- When you’re ready, bring this meditation to a close.
If you are interested in trying meditation, you might consider the Headspace app or going to www.headspace.com. They have 10 meditations for free and this is a wonderful way to give it a try. You should also check out this 9 minute Ted Talk “All it takes is 10 mindful minutes”.
Or, you can go to: www.mindfulnesswithrobyn.com and see when I am offering my next class. Please note: I am taking the month of August off.