Editor’s Note: This article on mindfulness was originally written in 2020 to accompany a series of workshops we offered. We find the content to still be relevant.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. ~Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor
Mindfulness practices have been around for thousands of years. Today, healthcare professionals are increasingly recommending mindfulness practice to combat depression and anxiety and to calm, clear and ground the heart and mind. Many of us are currently carrying remarkable levels of fear and anxiety. Fear is an absolutely normal reaction to the uncertainty that is present almost everywhere you turn—Will I still have a job? How can I possibly manage working from home while trying to homeschool my kids? Will there be enough meat and toilet paper at the store? Will I carry COVID-19 into my home on the groceries? Is the economy going to tank? Will my family stay healthy?
While neither you nor I can know the answer to any of these questions, you can change your relationship to the circumstances and uncertainty that life hands you through mindfulness meditation.
There are many benefits–physical, mental and emotional–from meditation, including:
- Less stress
- Reduced anxiety
- Decreased depression
- Lower blood pressure
- Bolstered immune system
- Increased self-awareness
- Heightened focus
- Reduced emotional reactivity
- Improved work and personal relationships.
Right now, reducing the stress and anxiety you may be experiencing, seems to be the most important benefit.
When you are under extreme and enduring stress, an ancient part of your brain, the amygdala, is working overtime. This is the part of your brain that endeavors to keep you safe—the fight/flight/freeze center. When a threat is perceived, the amygdala initiates a response to send the stress hormone, cortisol, into your system. When stressors are unrelenting, and you constantly feel under attack, the fight/flight/freeze reaction can get stuck in the “on” position. The result is that you feel heightened and sustained feelings of anxiety and fear which can lead to a gradual deterioration in a number of bodily systems.
When the threat response is triggered, the pre-frontal cortex–the part of your brain that allows you to focus, make good decisions, plan, and exercise impulse control–stops functioning effectively. The good news is…you can quiet the messaging to your body that you’re in danger, primarily by altering what you pay attention to.
When you practice mindfulness meditation, you are building the capacity to train your attention to what you want to focus on. Your ability to choose your focus, and thus your state, directly impacts your emotional, mental and physical health and competencies.
Mounting neuroscientific research reveals that the most effective state from which to function is when the well-being center of the brain is activated. From this place you will find a space between stimulus and response, and in this space, you can find choice. And in your choice literally lies your freedom. While you likely will still have an internal reaction, you can choose a skillful response and not just speak and act out of the reflexive reaction arising from fear. Many of my clients find this space to choose tremendously useful in staying true to who they want to be in the world, regardless of external circumstances.
Just 5-15 minutes of meditation per day is shown to have an effect on the brain structures that help you down-regulate the stress centers and up-regulate the well-being centers in your brain.