Mindfulness, being ‘present’ not getting ‘attached’ –these are common phrases we now hear on a daily basis but what do they really mean?? And how do you get to become more mindful exactly and most importantly, why should you devote effort into trying?
Mindfulness and your brain
Mindfulness meditation is just a technique to help train your brain to do what you want it to do, and avoid getting stuck in the habitual patterns of thoughts, emotions and behaviours that aren’t all that helpful for you, and in some cases are very harmful.
One example is if you suffer from panic attacks, if you can learn and start practicing a specific technique to help recognize the very first signs of when your body is starting to go down that path (these signs are so early and you probably don’t even know what they are without some exploration!) you can use the technique to activate different brain centres, shut off the panic and anxiety brain circuit in your limbic system and amygdala, and avoid the panic attack completely.
So what is the magical technique? Well, there’s not just one but many! A very good one to start with can be found here.
After you’ve done that for a week or two every day, you can start to add on a new layer to your meditation to start training your brain out of those limbic and amygdala ‘fight or flight’ loops. Dr. Daniel Friedland talks about this technique that he calls’ recognizing your reactivity’ and then the ‘Name it to Tame it’ technique.
Name It To Tame It
What this involves is uncovering what physical sensations in your body, feelings and emotions and thoughts that happen when you are facing a really stressful situation. You may think you know what these are, but I can guarantee you there’s some subtle ones you are likely missing.
Let’s find them together now so you can start to recognize the first signs of your body and brain going down that ‘fight or flight’ path and into your stress circuits in the limbic system with this brief exercise:
Close your eyes and imagine in vivid detail a recent highly stressful situation that you can easily recall. Set the scene: where was it, who was there, what were you wearing, AND most importantly, go through and do a body scan of all of the physical body sensations you had in those moments. Here are some examples of common ones:
- Physical Sensations of Stress:
- Tightness or tension in chest, shoulders, neck or lower back
- jaw clenching
- lump in throat
- sweaty hands
- feeling cold
- feeling hot
- feeling heart racing
- Hearing blood rushing or ringing in ears
- Tingling in feet or hands
- can’t catch your breath
- feeling like your ribcage is restricting your breathing
Emotions and Thoughts
Ok, next recall what types of thoughts and emotions you had in those stressful moments. Some common normal emotions we have come in when we are experiencing stress include: anger, resentment, fear, sadness, feeling alone, feeling panicky, or feeling the need to escape.
Some common thoughts are: blaming yourself or others, feeling that you not good enough, feeling like a failure, thinking that others are judging you, etc.
Once you have identified what physical sensations, emotions and thoughts you experience when you encounter stress, you can practice a mindfulness technique called ‘Name it to Tame it.’ This means that once you recognize what stress FEELS like in your body, when it get’s going, you can say in your head i.e. name, the emotions, thoughts and sensations that you are experiencing.
For example, saying mentally, “I’m feeling angry” or “I have tension in my shoulderblades.” When you ‘Name it’ You actually activate competing brain circuits to the fight or flight & anxiety loops, so it will instantly take the edge off of your feelings of stress.
So now you have 2 mindfulness practices to start using to decrease your reactivity to stress, decrease anxiety and stress hormones, and start to understand your body’s ‘warning signs’ that it’s going down that fight or flight path so you can ‘reset’ your course!
Sometimes when the stress circuits in our brain are very strong, from years of chronic unrecognized stress, it takes more than this to really get out of those destructive loops. In upcoming posts, we’ll be digging deeper how to do this so you can build on what I’m teaching you each week to retrain your brain and gain control over your responses to stress!