How we make sense of an event greatly influences how we are experiencing it. If we perceive an event as threatening our body mobiles the fight-or-flight response, which means that blood is directed away from the pre-frontal cortex, your logical thinking centre to our major organs and muscles to prepare us to fight or to run away. In a moment like this, your capacity to stay with the experience and make informed decisions is impaired. It is difficult to change habitual reactions to stress. One of the reasons is that when you’re stressed your reaction time speeds up. The more stressed you are the faster you react.
To give yourself a bit of space it is often just a change of perspective that makes all the difference. When you are able to notice things from a compassionate witness point rather than identifying with the experience you are better able to respond from a position of reflection instead of reacting habitually and thus being more flexible in your responses.
Practising mindfulness strengthens that inner witness. Becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings and sensations and learning how they can be moderated by the way you think and understand them allows you to have more control over your life.
Observing & labelling the experience instead of being “in it”:
– I have thoughts but I am not my thoughts.
– I have bodily sensations but I am not my bodily sensations.
– I have feelings but I am not my feelings.
Mindfulness can be thought of as a large container, that can hold all aspects of human experience – thoughts, feelings, images and body sensations – with acceptance, compassion and non-judgemental awareness.
Being mindful, especially when stressed, requires practice to change old, painful patterns at work and at home. A good way of starting is by practising with less stressful situations before you move on to the more challenging ones.
Mindfulness means staying with uncomfortable emotions, not trying to fix them, nor attempting to change what is happening. Just being with all sorts of experiences, even those which are painful or stressful, so we can understand them, not fear them or struggle against them.
Being mindful and present is critical to reduce stress, improve relationships, and to increase our ability to make competent and wise decisions. Focusing on the past often causes regrets and depression while preoccupation with the future only leads to worries and anxiety.
Research has shown that mindfulness practises not only lower the heart rate, slows and deepens breathing and stops releasing cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream but also measurable change in gray-matter density in parts of the brain (hippocampus and amygdala) associated with memory, learning, sense of self, empathy and stress.