Thank you for attending the first mindfulness session on finding inner calm and clarity amidst the stress! If you couldn’t attend the live session, thank you for being here now. You can read about what we covered in the first session before trying the meditation, which you can find 18 minutes into the video shared below.
Some of the intentions shared by the participants were:
A break from the noise
To learn more ways or relearn ways to take care of myself during all of this uncertainty.
To find stillness in a time of heightened anxiety.
Quiet the mind and not think about the news
Here’s the gist of our first session: if you’re feeling strong emotions at this time, it’s only natural. In the face of a threat, we have an automatic stress response: fight-flight-freeze. You might recognize this reaction in yourself when you’re watching the news or listening to NPR describing the growing pandemic. You can feel the stress in your body—your heart rate increases, your muscles tighten, or your breathing becomes shallow. To the extent that our brains are motivating us to meet the challenge, this kind of stress, termed “eustress,” is good for us. But when we lack information and there’s uncertainty—like we’re encountering with the current pandemic—the brain can spin stories of dread, leading to anxiety and panic. Enduring extended periods of stress is not helpful. Here’s why:
- Your health is compromised: Your immunity, digestion, and cardiovascular health is affected.
- You can’t think clearly: If the threat is greater than your ability to deal with it, you’re likely to go into the fight-flight-freeze response, also known as the amygdala hijack. When this happens, your emotions don’t let you think and see things clearly. Research shows that your IQ drops temporarily by up to 20 points, and you won’t make the best decisions.
- You’re out of balance: Our brains are trying to conserve our mental resources to deal with the threat, so we go into autopilot mode. This means we are reactive and reliant on our default ways of handling stress. This can leave us out of balance. For example, my default under stress is to meditate and problem-solve. This drives my tendencies to be a workaholic, which makes me socially withdrawn and out of balance emotionally. You can read more about this in another post I wrote.
What we’re learning in these mindfulness sessions are the skills to calm the mind, so we can look at our experiences without any kind of judgment and take actions from a place of clarity.
Strategy 1: Awareness of Breath
The first strategy is using our breath as a brake for our escalating fear and stress. Research shows that by bringing attention to our direct sensations of breathing in the body, we reactivate our parasympathetic nervous system. This means the body returns back to its normal state—we’re no longer freaking out and we can think clearly.
Step 1: Posture
Make sure you find a posture—sitting, lying down, or standing—that feels comfortable and allows you to be alert. Your hands can rest naturally, one on top of the other, or palms facing up or down.
Step 2: Turning Our Attention Inward
So much of our attention is outward, especially now. With so much uncertainty out there amidst a rapidly changing situation, our inclination is to get the latest news and to do something about it. It’s important to stay informed so we can take appropriate precautions and actions; however, I can say from my own experience and from what others shared, we’re over-consuming information right now.
If we stay stuck in the cycle of thinking and doing and don’t know how to relax, we can overstimulate our limbic system (the emotional network in the brain). This leads to anxiety and the inability to unhook from thinking.
This is an important step, to invite the mind with kindness to turn our attention inward, on the sensations of breathing in the body. Sensing the breath gives the mind a break from thinking and can help you feel calm.
Step 3: Feeling The Sensations of Breathing In The Body
Breathing at your natural pace, in this phase, rest your awareness on the sensations of breathing. Find one place where your mind naturally wants to rest or where you can feel your breath most clearly and give your full care and attention there.
Do this meditation and see for yourself what you notice about the quality of your mind and body, before and after the meditation. You can also use your breath to find your calm throughout your day.
Reset With Your Breath To Find Inner Calm On The Go
Here are 3 suggestions to use your breath to find calm in the middle of activity:
- Start your day, before you get out of bed, with a few cycles of awareness of breathing. Do this before looking at your phone, if possible.
- During the day, when watching or reading news, bring awareness to your breath to check in with how you’re feeling
- When you find yourself agitated or in a difficult conversation, return to awareness of your breath to notice that you’re triggered and use the breath to find your place of inner calm. Then proceed with compassion for yourself and others, knowing that we’re all in this together.
Please try the meditation—which is 18 minutes into the video—and share what you learned about your mind, how you’re feeling post-meditation, and any challenges you faced in doing the practice.
Much gratitude to all of you for your practice, to the Amherst Business Improvement District, and the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce for their support in bringing this series for free to our community. Shout out to The Mill District for your ongoing support of mindfulness.
Please join us next Friday at noon to learn the next strategy for finding our inner calm and clarity amidst stress.
Take the quiz to know your default mind and how mindful are you, especially under stress.
Join me in the 8-week course starting on April 8th. My pricing model is pay what you can and scholarships are available!