A stressed-out mind is not a resourceful mind. The stress in our lives is now so great and so all-pervading that there is a critical need for humans to understand it better. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a resourceful way of responding to this important need.
The concept of stress suggests that we continually face the necessity of adjusting to the changing pressures of life. It is not the would-be stressor itself but how we see things and then how we handle them that determine whether or not it will lead to stress.
Ever notice how sometimes the slightest little thing can trigger a passionate overreaction in us. Our stress tolerance decays when we feel, Hungry, Exhausted, Lonely, and Pressured (H-E-L-P).
At other times, we are able to handle little aggravations with no apparent effort whatsoever.
A stressor can be a real threat or can be an imagined threat. For example, the mere thought of having a fatal disease is a stressor that can trigger a stress-response. The physiology of the body cannot differentiate the real from the imagined or anticipated stress.
A stress-response is the assortment of hormonal and neural variations in the body meant to reestablish relative constancy of the body’s internal environment. Humans activate the stress-response when there is real physical danger, but unlike other animals, humans can activate the same stress-response when they have a thought or emotion, or a memory.
If the stress-response runs chronically out of control, it can be unhealthy biologically, psychologically and socially.
If your mind considers a traffic jam a total disaster over which you have no control, the tiny hypothalamus in your brain will do its job giving you high levels of stress hormones to deal with the “catastrophe.”
But is a traffic jam a “catastrophe?”
Person ‘A’ sees the traffic gridlock as 10 out of 10 on their stress-o-meter. Person ‘B’ sees the same situation as 2 out of 10. Person ‘B’ sees the difficulty as manageable, and their hypothalamus won’t order up a flood of adrenaline when they’re stuck in traffic.
Here are the most common forms of stress:
Acute stress though it can be exciting at times more often it is problematic. Acute stress is initiated as a reaction to an immediate threat, anticipated demands, or pressures of the recent past or of the near future.
Chronic stress involves situations that are not short-lived. It is the perpetual stress that wears on people continuously. Examples of chronic stress include relationship problems, work pressures, and monetary or health worries. Chronic stress can impact your health in negative ways.
Episodic Stress is the type of stress that develops when continuous disorganization, chaos, and crisis is a way of life for the individual. Episodic stress can also ensue when an individual constantly worries. These individuals tend to be pessimistic, which causes them to be anxious and sometimes depressed.
Whatever the form of stress, research shows that effective treatment for stress focuses on the here and now, including new skills to manage thoughts, emotions, discomforts, and behavior.
Instead of reacting to life’s stressful changes habitually and robotically, we can reduce stresses negative consequences by responding with awareness. Awareness is the interior mind shift of attention to the present moment. What time is it? The correct answer is NOW.
I offer the following as a one-off way to visualize awareness.
Visualize that you’re a professional actor on stage performing in a rather wild and edgy drama. Here’s an unusual twist—you’re going to have a split-mind—two separate but unalike minds allowing you to be in two places at one time. YOU Number One (UN1) is your acting mind on stage focusing on his or her assigned part with little or no present moment awareness. YOU Number Two (UN2) is your awareness mind seated in the balcony. UN2 is a gentle and friendly observer of what’s happing to UN1. UN2 is detached and does not feel the thoughts and emotions of UN1. Stay with me here.
When UN1 is feeling a strong emotion, UN2 does not feel that emotion. UN2 is in the mind-mix to just observe. UN2 does not see the past or the future. UN2 is the domain of the mind that pays attention to what’s going on right NOW. For many, it is an aspect of the mind that is seldom used.
UN2 provides affectionate watching of the mind’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The purpose of this attention is to help the mind make better, healthier choices. Mindful awareness (UN2) helps increase attention and focus, and helps with difficult mental states such as anxiety and depression, fostering well-being and less emotional reactivity.
Most of us are probably unaware they are UN2 capable. MBSR’s mindfulness training can enable your UN2. With your UN2 enabled, it is possible for you to be fully present in your life. When you’re fully present in your life you can expect to experience more calm, harmony, happiness, and life satisfaction.
When you’re attached to your past life or worried about your future life you are absent from your NOW life. This usually results in some form of suffering. Your mind can wander off like this as much as 95% of the time. A sobering thought!
What on your mind?
Article by: Lan” Johnson
Lan Graduated with a Master of Social Work in clinical studies from Walla Walla University in 1993. Currently holds a license to practice independent clinical social work in Washington State (LICSW). Is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers of the National Association of Social Workers
Lan’s web site offers support for those suffering from anxiety and depression. His main message is “If you want to Fly you need to give up the things that weigh you down.”
He is a published author and educator