Caring for this body takes so much attention and time, doesn’t it? At a minimum, there are recommendations for daily flossing, brushing, cleaning, exercising, healthy eating, resting, etc. It’s amazing we have time for anything else! Now we should add mindfulness to that list?  It is easy to think “mindfulness? Does that mean I have to meditate? Oh great! One more thing I am supposed to be doing. One more thing to feel guilty about not doing.”

The research on the type, duration, and frequency of meditation needed for gaining the benefits of mindfulness is quite varied. Rather than getting caught up in the best way,  let’s explore why we might add this to our daily to-do list at all.

At any given moment of the day we can be in one of two modes.stress balance

When our demands outweigh our resources to meet them, we go into alarm mode.  There is a real or perceived threat to our well-being and we react in some way to protect ourselves.

stress balance 1The opposite is maintenance mode. Here we have what we need to meet current demands. The body and mind can put energy into the maintenance work  of this amazing machine.

In alarm mode, two key factors affect our efforts to be well.

  1. Smart Brain Shutdown: The emergency part of the brain takes over.  We no longer have access to the rational decision-making part of our brain. We react with variations of fight, flight or freeze.
  2. Healing is on Hold: The maintenance functions of healing, digesting, and repairing in the body are hindered.  The body goes through a myriad of changes to prepare for the reaction in some way.

The degree to which our mind and body are in each mode is a dynamic and ever-changing process. It is directly related to how we view the current internal or external demands and the resources we have to meet them.

In our fast-paced, multi-tasking, ‘high regard for busy’ society today, we can get so accustomed to being in alarm mode, we hardly notice it. We might even believe it is necessary for functioning in daily life.  It takes its toll, though. There is only so long we can drive a machine at full throttle and expect it to function well in the long term.

When we add the pressure of making healthy choices, building new habits, and getting rid of unhealthy ones, we especially need access to our rational brain.  This is why our best intentions go out the window in stressful times. This time of year – whether the added stress is simply more to do, or feeling blue, or both – the alarm mode can kick in in greater doses.  Add the backdrop of current events in our world, and the alarm mode can easily work into overtime.

The first gift of mindfulness is not the ability to stop thoughts, it is about being aware of our thoughts, emotions, and reactions in the body to inform us from which mode we are operating. Putting awareness before action is key to calming the alarm system and gaining access to our best self again.

Activate it:  As simple as it sounds, just practice noticing. For brief moments during the day, with a curious and kind attention, notice the operating mode. How does each mode feel inside? Writing down the observations keeps it objective and concrete. This information heightens the gifts of mindfulness in activating our own well-being.

Please share your comments below.

Next week, we will explore the second and often overlooked gift of mindfulness.

May You Be Well,

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Janet Huehls, MA, RCEP, CHWC