Mindfulness has become a buzzword that’s gotten a lot of attention over the last few years, but not many people really get a full understanding of what it is. The benefit of this is that a lot of awareness has been brought to this powerful exercise. And yet, unfortunately, much of the important components of it have become overlooked in the shuffle. Because of this, many people have an incomplete and partial understanding of Mindfulness. In the “Beyond the Couch” podcast, along with this multi-part blog post series, I set out to help bring to light much of the scientific backing to how and why Mindfulness works to benefit us. In particular, the way Mindfulness can impact us and help us to work through the various disruptions and stressors in our lives can really bring a deeper level of benefit, growth, and enduring change as we redefine and recreate our lives.
With things changing in our lives, even when that change is internal, we might be feeling a bit restless and stuck in a rut. You may be finding yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed and rundown. In fact, you might even feel this in your physical body where you may be having a hard time catching your breath and feel your muscles tightened and clenched. Maybe you are feeling rushed from one thing to the next without a moment to slow your racing mind down. You’re even catching yourself walking into a room and don’t even know why. Or, you find yourself looking for your cup of coffee and realize it has been in your hand while you’re frantically searching for it. You may have even had an entire conversation with someone and realize that you have no idea what you just talked about. It may even have gotten to a point that things have become so frazzling that, more and more, you’re finding yourself reactive without knowing what set you off and you are just having a hard time focusing on what you are trying to do.
You wish you could find a way to just clear your head, de-stress, refocus, and find your footing again.
With a brief and consistent Mindfulness practice, you can find simple ways to get yourself feeling more focused, alert, and calm again so that you can get into a productive and meaningful mindset. This way, you are ready to tackle all of the things you are juggling from a state that can help you make the best choices for your meaningful, fulfilled life.
Mindfulness refers to a practice that focuses on awareness of the present experience without judgment and without attachment or reactivity. This allows our mind to be calm and peaceful so that we can have greater clarity and even increase happiness, peace, and decrease discomfort.
It tends to be difficult for most people to control their mindset – we often feel as if our thoughts are maintained by external circumstances. As we build our Mindfulness practice, we can more easily maintain awareness and control of our thoughts and mindset. To understand this, we will explore a concept called neuroplasticity – or, the changing nature of our brain.
Generally, our brain is looking to proactively solve future problems and rework past issues so that, when they arise again, it is best prepared to quickly and efficiently resolve them. This, however, keeps us from being fully immersed in the present moment.
Not only this, but our mind does not see a distinction between a past, future, or present stressor. It gets us to react to past and future stressors with stress in the here and now. To our mind, it’s all the same. As a result, overthinking, worrying, depressive thoughts, and anxiety elicit the stress response of fight, flight, and freeze. Over time, this can make us vulnerable to mental health issues.
Mindfulness has been shown to reduce the size of the amygdala, which is our brain’s center for fear and negative emotions. This is important because it also helps to reduce the stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. Overall, shifting our state in this way helps us to respond in more productive ways to the things going on in our lives. There is a further cumulative effect of this benefit in that it first allows us to participate in our lives in ways that allow us to build confidence, self-efficacy, and more meaningful relationships. Furthermore, as we will explore in Part II of this series, Mindfulness practice on a consistent basis facilitates creating and building more positive and adaptive neuronal connections while simultaneously dissolving the older, less helpful neuronal connections.
I look forward to further elaborating on the impact of Mindfulness on our neuronal connections, neuroplasticity, and overall state next week!
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