Part Three: Mindfulness
In parts one and two, we looked at the impact of stress on the mind and body (https://therapybliss.wordpress.com/2015/08/03/using-mindfulness-to-combat-stress-a-six-part-series-2/). In part three we will be introduced to mindfulness and how it can help mitigate the harmful effects of stress.
Mindfulness is a state of being aware and paying attention on purpose to what is happening in the present moment without judgment and with kindness. This includes things happening externally as well as, internally in our mind. Mindfulness is the act of suspending all the doing and shifting to a state of being , making time for ourselves, observing the activities in our mind, watching our thoughts, and letting go of them without getting attached to them or driven by them, seeing old problems in a new light and cultivating moment to moment awareness.
When we start paying attention in this manner, we realize that most of the time our mind is either in the past or the future. Because of this tendency of the mind to wander, we are only partially aware of what is happening around us in the present. We go into the ‘auto pilot’ mode barely noticing what we are doing or experiencing. We often let unconscious stimuli and thoughts hijack our emotions and as a result find ourselves in a bad mood or feeling stressed. When we are in this partially conscious state, preoccupied with the inner busyness that is our mind, we miss out on precious moments in our life. Consequently, we are much less happier than we would otherwise be. Mindfulness helps us develop the capacity to be aware of and regard each experience, thought and moment with kindness and tenderness towards ourselves where we realize our full potential for leading a happy, satisfying and meaningful life. It helps us see things more clearly without the preconceived notions, the judgments, the opinions, and the emotional charge we tend to attach to situations. The recognition that the only time we have is the present moment makes our experiences more vivid and our lives more real. Being mindful also helps us become aware of our current automatic stress reactions – which may be harmful to our physical and mental well-being – and make a conscious shift in how we respond to stress.
Mindfulness helps us focus our efforts on our mind and thoughts. When we are able to view thoughts as simply transitory things that come and go without getting emotionally aroused by or attached to them, they lose their power over us. Whether it be stress created by external factors (over which we may or may not have much control over) or stress created by our own thinking, we have more control over how we respond to the stress than we believe. The stress that is caused by external factors such as experiencing a tragedy, going through an illness, taking care of a sick family member, suffering a loss etc can take a heavy toll on our physical and emotional well-being if we allow it. Similarly, stress that is caused by internal factors (self-created stress) can also take a heavy toll on our well-being if we allow it. Mindfulness helps develop the ability to view our experience with curiosity and compassion, without trying to change it in any way. It helps us become less reactive to our experience, which gives us the freedom to choose how to respond. We become aware of triggers to our stress and aware of what is happening to us when we are in a stressful situation. When we are in touch with ourselves in such a way, we are able to short-circuit the automatic stress-reaction as it is happening and recover from it with calmness and awareness.
We develop the ability to be mindful through both formal and informal mindfulness practices. Formal practice involves regular meditation, yoga and body scan. Once you establish a daily formal practice you will start to notice the benefits and transformation spill into all aspects of your everyday life. This is where the informal practice begins. Informal practice involves a dedicated effort and intentionality to start paying attention to your thoughts, your body’s reaction to these thoughts and breathing at various times throughout the day.
Next week, we will look into some of these practices in detail.