Mindfulness Can Change Your Brain
The bad news is that our collective mental health these past few years has been deteriorating. Stress, anxiety, depression, drug overdoses, and suicides have all been on the rise. Between illness, suicide and other behavioral health related deaths, we are recognizing the fragility of life. Our sense of certainty and security continues to be challenges challenged.
The good news is that awareness is growing about things we can all do to help ourselves. Perhaps that’s why the practice of Mindfulness is also on the rise. In fact, it’s believed to be the fastest-growing healthcare trend in America.
It’s so important in these times to find a way to shift out of our fear-based brain and into a more highly evolved part of the brain that is flexible, creative, and compassionate. Studies have shown that after an eight-week class called MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program created by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979), people’s brain scans show an increase or thickening of the areas of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, and a shrinking of the more primitive part of the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala acts like an alarm bell for danger and threat, and is highly reactive. The pre-frontal cortex of the brain is responsible for value based decision-making, and cognitive flexibility. It’s the part of the brain that enables us to interrupt automatic reactions and be more responsive to external and internal stimuli.
In a recent Discover U Podcast, host JD Kalmenson interviews Lisa Kring, LCSW on Mindfulness as a practical Tool for Psychological Healing
There’s a quote attributed to Victor Frankl which says, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.” In order to cope with the stresses of our fast-paced world today, that freedom to choose our response is essential. The practice of mindfulness not only physically develops the pre-frontal cortex, but it also brings an expanded awareness of the mind-body connection, which eases stress.
Practicing mindfulness isn’t a “fix” per se, but a different orientation to living, and that has long lasting effects. Once we can find that space to ask ourselves what is triggering my reaction of anger, fear, or guilt (for example), and then allow ourselves to drop down and feel the actual wound that underlies the reaction, deeper healing is possible.
Here are 5 ways you can begin a practice of mindfulness to enhance your experience of life on a daily basis:
- Stop what you’re doing and focus on how your body feels. Feel the temperature of the air on your skin, the pull of gravity holding you to the earth, the pulse of your heart beating.
- Focus on your breathing. Feel what the air feels like as it passes through your nostrils on the in and out breaths. Is there a difference?
- Notice what happens with your shoulders and chest as you breathe. Don’t pass any judgment, just notice, and note to yourself, “my shoulders are scrunched up to my ears,” or “my shoulders are forward,” or “my chest feels tight,” etc. The intention is not to fix yourself, but to notice and feel what’s going on. You may find yourself relaxing during this process.
- Identify a bit-sized snack you enjoy, like a raisin. Look at it closely. Notice the color variations, the subtle shapes it contains. Next pick it up with your hands and feel the texture of it. Bring it up to your nose and smell it. Take in the sensation completely. Then put it in your mouth and feel the sensation of it in your mouth. Roll it around for a little bit before you chew down on it. Observe how your body reacts to the flavor released as you chew.
- Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Notice how each movement takes more concentration and is not as quick and effortless as when you perform the same activity with your dominant hand. Look at the toothpaste as if it’s the first time you’ve ever seen something like it. Feel the texture and taste of the paste in your mouth, and the feel of the bristles from the toothbrush as they sweep over your teeth and gums. How does the water feel as you swish it around?
When you first start practicing mindfulness, it can be difficult to slow down and interrupt your habitual patterns. You might even find that a rebellious streak comes out. Simply observe non-judgmentally and return to your practice. It might take some repetition, but the rewards of mindfulness are worth the effort!
Learn More about Montare Behavioral Health: https://montarebehavioralhealth.com