Mindfulness has become a buzzword that's gotten a lot of attention over the last few years. The benefit of this is that a lot of awareness has been brought to this powerful exercise. And yet much of the important components of it are often overlooked. Because of this, many people have an incomplete understanding of mindfulness. Mindfulness can help us work through various disruptions and stressors in our lives and 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 restless and stuck in a rut. You may find yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed and rundown. In fact, you might even feel this in your physical body, such as having a hard time catching your breath or feeling your muscles tighten. Maybe you are feeling rushed from one thing to the next without a moment to slow down your racing mind. You may even catch yourself walking into a room and don't remember why or looking for your cup of coffee and realize it has been in your hand while you're frantically searching for it. It may even get a point where you find yourself being 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.
Refocusing with Mindfulness
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 have a productive and meaningful mindset. This way, you are ready to tackle all of the things you are juggling from a state where you can 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 and 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.
Our Changing Brain
Generally, our brain is looking to proactively solve future problems and rework past issues so that when they arise again, it is 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 in that it first allows us to participate in our lives with confidence and self-efficacy and have more meaningful relationships. Furthermore, a consistent mindfulness practice facilitates creating and building more positive and adaptive neuronal connections while simultaneously dissolving the older, less helpful neuronal connections.
Everyone can benefit from improving their quality of life through the practice of mindfulness. With the understanding of the scientific and neurobiological underpinnings of mindfulness, we can see how beneficial this practice can be. A mindfulness practice helps us to better structure the 50-70 thousand thoughts we have each day. It can be a powerful tool in helping us to restructure what we are looking to build in our lives.
Sally Nazari, PsyD is a licensed psychologist, Usui Reiki Master Teacher and Jikiden Reiki practitioner providing individual, group, couples and family therapy in Nyack. Her interactive and solution-focused approach highlights compassionate understanding to help people work through personal life issues. Listen to her Beyond the Couch podcast to learn more about the science and benefits of mindfulness. For additional information on the services she offers, including her Mindful Monday group, or to schedule an appointment, call 236-5612 or visit DrSallyNazari.com.