These are challenging times that we all feel at a deep level. Our thoughts are being pulled into the uncertain future. For most of us, the future place that we create resonates with fear. The fear of the future becomes real in this moment and increases our anxiety. We tend to think that this experience won’t end and it’s the new normal – that living in fear and uncertainty will be constant. This is hard to experience but it’s helpful to understand why it happens.
This typical human response to danger and uncertainty is constructed upon two remnants of ancient human biology. They kept us safe and helped humans survive in the wild, but they tend to work against us in modern culture. One of these remnants is called “negativity bias” (more on this in Part 2), and the other is known as “wandering mind.” The good news is that we can take actions to understand our automatic reactions and practice techniques that override them, leading to better wellbeing.
Research shows that we are lost in thought about half the time. Critical thinking is important, but much thinking involves loops of constantly recurring thoughts. We can’t be consciously aware of ourselves or our environment when our minds wander. For example, most of us have experienced driving a car “mindlessly,” meaning we get lost in thought and have no recollection of actually driving the car. We “wake up,” when we arrive and park the car. This is mindlessness.
Suddenly, being mindless suddenly doesn’t work anymore and everyone in the world must do a mindful practice called, “Mindful Hands – Mindful Face.” Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose and our survival is dependent upon having that skill. But it’s harder than it seems. The Mindful Hands practice demonstrates that mindfulness isn’t esoteric or religious. It is simply paying attention on purpose, without judgement, and humans have used this practice successfully for thousands of years. You can too!
We practice mindfulness in times of calm. It changes our brains over time (neuroplasticity) so that the practice becomes part who we are. Just like physical exercise practices transform our body, mindful practices transform our brains. This allows us to be more aware of automatic behaviors like touching our face. It is a path of transformation towards improved resiliency and wellbeing.
Valuable Mindfulness Practices When Distressed.
What do I feel now? What do I need in response to this feeling? Can I offer that to myself right now? Everyone responds differently to these questions, but it is best to remain open and curious. When we are upset, our logical brain is physically hijacked by our emotional brain. The blood in our brains leaves our logical center and rushes to support the emotional center (fight, flight, or freeze response for safety). We can reverse this blood flow back to our logical center and reduce the level of emotional response with any of the following practices. Try them yourself to see which one works best for you. Or use them all at different times.
- Mindful Thinking. Reboot your logical brain with challenging mental efforts. You can count backward from 100 in odd numbers. You could do hard math problems in your head. Trying to solve the problem is important, not actually getting the right answer.
- Mindful Body. Bring your attention to feeling your legs on the chair and maintain that focus. It’s OK when your mind wanders. The trick is to notice that it wandered and then simply returning to the practice of noticing the contact point of your legs on the chair.
- Mindful Outside of Body. Body-centered focus is challenging for some. Another approach is to focus on something outside of your body: watching clouds float across the sky, watch traffic, or just focus on a point on the wall. Just noticing with intention.
- Mindful Breathing. Notice where you feel your breath the most in your body. This location is your focus point during the practice. Maintain that focus as you do 10 deep breaths.
May you all be safe and healthy.
© 2020, Skip Hudson LLC