Mindfulness skills pave the way to living stress free
In the last decade scientific research has expanded our knowledge of stress and the flight or fight response. It has validated the use of simple techniques that allow us to diminish the power of the stress response to control how we respond to every day events. This creates the opportunity to choose how we feel from moment to moment.
These techniques or skills are based on science-backed, evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies that explain how and why these techniques work based on hard science.
These skills fall into the category of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness has been used for thousands of years as an introduction to the practice of meditation. Western medicine began to embrace these techniques in the middle of the 20th century and over time their use has been widely accepted as effective in managing the stress response. The effectiveness is proven in the extensive research devoted to explaining the science behind these methods.
Mindfulness is defined as the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the moment, non-judgmentally to whatever is paramount in our experience of life as it is happening right now. This includes our thoughts, feelings, body sensations or anything related to what we are experiencing in the moment.
This practice of paying attention in the moment allows us to realize that we have almost nothing but judgment going on in our head. We are all familiar with that critical “inner voice” that finds fault with just about everything we do. That voice is tied to our physiology and its constant effort to keep us safe from any and all harm. As our modern life style has eliminated virtually all life-threatening physical events from our daily living our physiology has expanded its influence to include our psychological state. Is that rude person a threat to us? Our physiology in the form of the stress response believes it to be so, and that it needs to protect us from such non-physical imagined threats in the same way it has protected us from physical harm for thousands of years. This is an aspect of the chronic runaway stress response that I covered in my last letter to the editor.
Deep breathing, or taking a longer and deeper abdominal breath is the single most powerful daily practice for promoting our health and well-being. When stressed we take short, fast breaths to prepare for danger. Chronic stress keeps the brain and vital organs starved for oxygen because when stressed we only use the upper third of our lungs. Breathing better is the easiest stress relieving exercise we can do. It sends more oxygen to every cell in our body which helps us to create and maintain a state of mental and physical calm.
I recommend that you Google the HeartMath Institute’s “Heart-Focused Breathing” so you can use that technique on a daily basis to take charge of your emotions and to help neutralize the effects of the fight or flight response.
In our next letter, we will elaborate on the use of mindfulness techniques to choose how we feel moment to moment in order to reduce the intensity of the stress response on our physiology and use mindfulness to calm our critical inner voice.
John Staples, Bryans Road The writer is the program manager for War On Stress, a project of United Charitable, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.