How Mindfulness can Change Your Stress Response

Mindfulness is re-training the mind to respond in a different way and this is something we all need to learn as stress affects us all.

Psychologists used to say that the most common causes of stress were major life events such as: the loss of a job, major financial problems, marriage break down, moving house and so on. Today, those events can still cause stress but something really simple can trigger a stress response because we have been hardwired to feel stress by the way we live our lives.

In 1969, 36 per cent of women reported being stressed. In 2009 that figure has more than doubled to 75 per cent. In 1969 washing machines and TVs were just becoming affordable, now the are considered standard items along with dishwashers, microwaves, mobile phones, tablets and computers, adding to the cost of living. Household debt is now four times more than it was in 1988. And in 1969 the average person slept an average of eight hours. In 2009 30% of people get less than seven hours of sleep a night.

Now some interesting research has shown that individuals exposed to stress on a regular basis may build resilience, but people living a more affluent life may not have developed the same coping skills and may be more susceptible.

The stress response

There are differing opinions as to what causes stress today and the information age is definitely a factor. Change is no longer something that happens once in a while, it is a regular occurrence and the speed at which we are expected to learn new skills is greater than ever before.

Positive thinking alone is not enough to change the stress response

Hans Selye divided our stress response into three different stages: alarm, resistance and exhaustion. We don’t always experience all three stages. During the alarm stage your nervous system goes into fight or flight mode. If the stress doesn’t end you move on to the next stage of resistance where your body tries to get your nervous system back to normal as hormones released during this stressful period can damage your cells, the more stress you have experienced your body will automatically move into the exhaustion stage. The problem for many of us is that our stress response never really switches off and our bodies are constantly being bombarded with stress hormones.

Positive thinking alone will not change your stress response. We need to change the way we act.

Relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises work in the moment. Meditation helps to change our response to stress, but that takes time. The most effective technique to use at any time is mindfulness, and it can be done anywhere.

Mini-Mindfulness exercise

As soon as you notice yourself reacting step out of automatic pilot.

  • Pause.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • In your mind see yourself stepping out of your emotions.
  • Focus on your breathing. Breathe in to the count of four, breathe out to the count of four.
  • Observe how your body responds to your breathing.
  • Observe the world around you. Take note of colours and patterns, shapes and sizes. Do all of this without judgement.
  • Continue to do this for a few minutes, then return to what you were doing previously.

Mindfulness is the practice of observing yourself, your emotions and the way you respond. It is standing outside yourself and being the observer, not the judge.

Mindfulness is re-training the mind to respond in a different way.

Practice is what we do when we need to learn a new skill. When you learn to drive a car, play a sport, or learn to paint you do it repeatedly until you feel you have mastered the skill. Mindfulness is much the same. For it to become an automatic response you need to practice being mindful in different situations, on a daily basis.

You could see this practice as one more thing you have to do, so change the way you think about it, link it to something pleasurable, such as enjoying a cup of coffee. Practice being mindful while drinking coffee, savour every sip, really taste and feel the coffee on your tongue, the feeling of relaxation. Step outside your body and observe yourself drinking coffee. It’s an easy way to establish a positive habit and once you find you do this on a regular basis, you can then add another mindful practice into your daily life, such as being mindful when walking.

Don’t let the simplicity of mindfulness fool you, simple changes can lead to a defining moment, one you will most likely miss if you react. Every time you are present in this moment you reinforce an automatic response that will benefit you for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Meditation Changed My Life

Meditation has changed my life profoundly, and a part of my calling is to teach others how to practise and grow with mindfulness and meditation.

Why I trust in the healing power of meditation

Meditation is something I’ve practised since the early eighties. In the year following my son’s death I did a number of courses and every one included meditation, this is how I got started and it helped enormously during that difficult time.

By 1985 I started using meditation to help me attain my goals. Every day when I arrived at work the first thing I would do was lock my office door, sit on the floor and meditate for 20 minutes, then I’d start my work day. I can’t say I’ve never missed a day, but my meditation practice has been consistent and I credit it with enabling me to cope with the many challenges I’ve faced in my life.

At 16, my youngest daughter Laura, was admitted to a psychiatric clinic with major depression. Over the following years she was hospitalised a number of times whenever she was at risk of suicide. Meditation got me through that time, and it helped Laura to turn her state around and manage what can be a crippling illness. Because of this Laura has been able to overcome so many fears as she backpacked around the world and had some amazing experiences such as the time spent in the Amazon, searching for the northern lights in Norway and sleeping on the Afghanistan border protected by Turkmenistan army as the Taliban were camped nearby (as a mother I can’t say I was crazy about that one).

More recently my daughter Lisa had a liver transplant and there were times when she was close to death, and whenever I need guidance or my spirits lifted I meditated. I cannot recommend it highly enough because if you practice it consistently it changes your response to stress, and that’s something I can personally attest to.

ask-recieve
Ask and receive

Many years ago I established the habit of asking questions, as a way of seeking guidance, before every meditation and all of my work has evolved from the answers I’ve received.

Some people say, I asked, but I didn’t get an answer. We always get an answer, it’s just that we don’t always listen, or the answer comes in a shape or form we don’t expect or like, and we ignore it. We all know that life doesn’t always go the way we plan but when you stay open and willing life can be so much easier.

How meditation can help you

When we meditate consistently we increase our tolerance to stress. The difference between meditation and relaxation techniques is that meditation changes the structure of our brain and over time the way we respond to stress, whereas relaxation is a more immediate tool that can be used to manage and release stress. There is a place for both.

Mindfulness is a state of experiencing pure awareness.  It helps us to separate our thoughts from who we are. It encourages us to become the observer, which in turn enables us to release negative thoughts and emotions.

MRI Scans show that after eight weeks of mindfulness and/or meditation practice our fight or flight response weakens, while our attention and concentration gets stronger. How much this occurs depends upon how much time we dedicate to this practice. You don’t have to spend hours meditating, 20 minutes a day is enough, but if you can only meditate for 10 minutes, it’s still beneficial.

Meditation is such a simple, easy practice that can be done by anyone. If you don’t know how simply go to YouTube and search for a guided meditation you can listen to, there are hundreds, if not thousands freely available. My favourite is, I am that I am, by Wayne Dyer, and I listen to this most days. Marianne Williamson has some lovely meditations as well.

Mindfulness and meditation aren’t about changing anything, they are tools that allow us to experience inner peace even during the most stressful times. But there is so much more we can gain from using them. Mindfulness and meditation enhance our intuition. I listen to my intuition every day and ask for guidance on simple things from looking for a parking spot to major life decisions. I trust my intuition implicitly to always guide me to the right choice and I can only do that because I am so in tune with it.

The sooner you start using these valuable tools you’ll not only enrich your own life, but you will also become a role model for others, particularly if you have children.

How mindfulness can help children and teens

Like many people’ I’ve been saddened by teen suicide and I wanted to write a course to help prevent this, yet when I did my research I found that what would help children and teenagers most was to learn mindfulness, and that’s how my mindfulness teacher course came about.

Teen suicide is usually something that is an impulsive action when feelings get too much to bear. I even made a half-hearted attempt myself when I was 18 and broken-hearted.  As 95% of all behaviour is habitual, teaching children and teens to develop the habit of pausing and observing before taking any action could save a life. It will also help them to grow up to be better-balanced adults.

Mindfulness is also known to build resilience. It can help us manage pain, make wiser financial choices, communicate better and enjoy life more.

By meditating regularly, and being more mindful we enrich our lives.

Make Your Life Matter

I started Hart Life Coaching in 1999. We are a boutique school that doesn’t rely on hard selling or hype, but instead, we want to make a real difference in the lives of everyone who trains with us. We offer courses to train meditation and mindfulness teachers, but our courses are open to anyone who wants to make their lives better. Contact us, or schedule a free call.

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The Healing Powers of Forest Bathing

A few months ago I had a strong feeling to write a course on mindfulness, which I resisted. I am a big fan of mindfulness and I practised it occasionally but I wasn’t someone who made it part of my daily life. I kind of liked the buzz I got from multi-tasking and juggling numerous projects at once and I didn’t want to give that up. But the more I resisted the stronger the urge became until I decided to follow my inner voice and it wasn’t long before I was hooked.

Whenever I write a course I do every exercise and make what I’m writing about a part of my daily life, so I can be sure it works before recommending it to others, and I must admit I didn’t expect to find mindfulness such a fascinating subject. Before long I started noticing a change within myself as I implemented mindfulness practices into my daily life.

At the end of June, when I was half way through writing the course,  I went on a month long trip to Europe and while In England I did some research on the topic and discovered for myself the power of forest bathing. Forest bathing, also known as Shinrin-yoku, is the practice of walking mindfully amongst trees and there is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate the physical and emotional benefits of this.

When we walk amongst trees we are in an oxygen rich environment. We are exposed to sights and sounds that generally relax us but even more important is our exposure to phytoncides (wood essential oils). Phytoncides significantly increase our NK cells which are known to fight cancer[1]. In a nutshell walking in the forest has some major health benefits the full extent of which is, as yet, unknown.

What does appear to be the case is that regular forest bathing can have long lasting effects. Weekly sessions of around 20 minutes or more are recommended. If you don’t have an area of bush that is easily accessible go to your local park, where there are trees. The benefits gained from just one session last for a week.

Forest therapy[2] has been proven to:

  • Improve the immune system
  • Increase relaxation due to increase activity in the parasympathetic nervous system
  • Reduce stress
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Reduce blood pressure if it is high and raise it if is low
  • Increase feelings of wellbeing
  • Decrease cardiovascular illnesses[3]
  • Help with respiratory system issues such as allergies[4]

In the US particularly, some doctors are recommending this practice to their patients. Dr Nooshin Razani[5], a paediatric infectious diseases doctor at Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland California, conducts a program call Shine, where once a month she leads of group of up to 50 people through a lush forest of redwoods. Her patients range in age from 8 months to 18. Dr Razani published findings that park visits, no matter where they were, or whether they were led by a guide or not led to a decrease in stress.

Suzanne Simard, a researcher at the University of British Columbia also quotes a hospital in Atlanta that formally offers forest therapy to patients with cancer. Another doctor in Iowa, Dr Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmill, an obstetrician-gynaecologist became a certified forest guide and leads groups.

Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki[6], who is a researcher and director of Chiba University’s Centre for Environment, Health and Field Sciences and author of Shinrin-yoku, says that our genes cannot change in just a few hundred years and the loss of trees and our natural environment is a major contributor to modern day stress.

Dr Miyazaki also says that stress today is not just triggered by dangerous situations but emotional ones as well such as a crowded commuter train, a driver who takes the parking space you wanted, or an employer who is unhappy with your work. We have more triggers for the stress response today than ever before and when our bodies remain in a state of hyper-arousal for too long illness occurs.

Mindfulness is the way to change our state and ultimately our entire lives, whether we practice being mindful as a daily exercise, or we make walking amongst trees something we do on a regular basis.

I am now offering online courses in Certificate in Mindfulness and a Certified Mindfulness Teacher certification.

 

References:

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/

[2] Shinrin-yoku, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Octopus Publishing, Great Britain, 2018

[3] Your guide to forest bathing, M Amos Clifford, Conari Press, Massachussets, 2018

[4] Your guide to forest bathing, M Amos Clifford, Conari Press, Massachussets, 2018

[5] https://e360.yale.edu/features/exploring_how_and_why_trees_talk_to_each_other

[6] Shinrin-yoku, Professor Yoshifumi Miyazaki, Octopus Publishing, Great Britain, 2018

Finding Joy in Unexpected Places

As we go about our daily lives it’s so easy to let the things that bring joy into our lives slip. If we wait for circumstances to bring us joy we may have to wait a long time, but if we establish the habit of being mindful and doing something every day that brings us pleasure it becomes so much easier to experience joy, and attain our most important goals.

It has been discovered people who suffer from depression have an inability to see things as new, fresh or exciting and this is what makes them depressed. In chronically depressed people the mind creates links between sad moods and feelings of hopelessness or inadequacy. For instance, a person experiencing depression could interpret the fact that they didn’t get a job to mean they are hopeless as a person, or a failure, that they will never get what they want.

Depression has been largely treated by drugs which puts serotonin back into the body, or by cognitive behavior therapy. Both of these work, but when a person goes off drugs they often experience a relapse. There is a third way that can change the way we feel, which has been proven to bring about long-lasting change, and that is by being mindful.

Mindfulness

Scientists have found that the brain can only create new pathways when we pay attention to what we are doing. If you go around saying affirmations by rote without really thinking about what they mean, they won’t have much impact upon your life. Say affirmations consciously, focusing on positive emotions and follow that up with action that makes you feel good and you will get an entirely different outcome. Our brain is constantly remaking itself in response to outside stimuli, our environment and our experiences.

Neuroplasticity occurs when the mind is in a state of focus and attention, this is commonly known as being mindful.

Being mindful, as well as inducing a state of calm, means we can change our emotional response to events that once upset us, and we can change beliefs which prevent us from moving forward.

Mindfulness is the practice of observing yourself. It is observing the way we think and feel without judging.

Drugs for depression work from the bottom up. Cognitive behavior therapy works from the top down. Mindfulness based cognitive therapy keeps the depression circuit from being completed.

No one is happy all of the time, but when we are mindful we notice our emotions and that allows us to take control of them rather than having our emotions run our lives. Attention training changes lives. Rather than just making a decision to be more mindful, which you’ll probably forget within a day, link being mindful to any activity that stresses or challenges you. Or set a specific time each day and put a reminder into your phone to stop and focus on what is happening in the world around you.

By training yourself to be mindful you start to recognise those things that bring you joy. When you add more things that bring you joy into your daily life you feel happier. When you feel happy you have a positive influence on the world around you.

Living Calm Creates Balance

2017 is my year for creating balance and living calm, not just for the year, but for the rest of my life. Living calm to me means being unflappable, but the reality is that I can barely remember a time when I haven’t felt stressed for one reason or another, and just dealing with the situation that is causing the stress, has only ever brought short term relief because there is always another pressing need to fill, or problem to solve. Living calm is something we need to foster and promote to increase the health and wellbeing of our whole society, especially our children.

Your stress threshold determines how well you manage stress

Our response to stress is set up in the womb, my low stress threshold was passed on to me by my mother and I in turn passed it on to my children. I’ve developed some great skills to manage stress but I’ve reached the stage where I don’t want to have to do this any more, I want to be calm, relaxed and enjoy every single day.

One of the best habits we can all establish is to observe ourselves without judgement. This gives us so much insight into why we do the things we do. I’ve given myself a whole year to observe what causes stress for me, establish new habits and make changes that will be permanent. That’s one of the reasons I’ve written so few blogs this year, my focus has been on simplifying and creating a new normal that supports the me to be the person I want to be and the life I want to live.

Living Calm means living a balanced life

Some of the things that I’ve discovered about myself is that my stress response starts long before I am consciously aware of it. Life gives us little clues that tell us when we are out of balance and if we are mindful on a regular basis we notice these clues,which can show up as minor irritations, before they become a major problem. When we race through life, going from one thing to the next, we often miss these clues and this means that we often keep experiencing the same old patterns, over and over again.

I’ve always known I don’t value myself enough but only recently I discovered how much of an impact that has had on my work. When I had to replace a staff member I became aware that I had a tendency to employ people who needed support, rather than choosing someone to support me.

Feeling unsupported has been one of my major life issues, and this feeling has infiltrated every area of my life because I constantly gave up my own needs to accommodate others.

As I write I am having ducted airconditioning installed in my home and I clearly asked when I got the quote, for the outdoor unit to be placed in a specific location, out of sight. Yesterday, after the tradesmen had left, I discovered that the unit was installed in the wrong place so that’s it’s visible as you walk in my drive. I have plans to convert this area into a relaxing outdoor area. My builder, who isn’t involved with this service, encouraged me to leave it where it is, and normally I would have gone along with this, but I know I’ll never be happy with that choice.

So now whenever I feel tempted to compromise just to make life easier for someone else I pause and reassess if this is something I really want to do and ask, ‘will this choice create more stress for me’. Leaving the unit in its current location might cause short term stress but over the long term it would be a constant irritation.

When we give up our needs on a regular basis we reinforce the belief that we can’t have what we really want, and that belief is behind so much unhappiness that exists today. The more aware we are the easier it becomes to make small and sometimes major adjustments in our daily lives. The discomfort we feel in the short term is minor compared to the long lasting benefits we gain from living a calm life. When we feel calm we are in balance. Our feelings reinforce the belief that we can have what we want. We fill our most important needs and as a result we feel happier. And happy people make the world a better place for everyone.

Where are your thoughts taking you?

When Wayne Dyer’s book Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life was released in 2009 I purchased it immediately only to discover that it wasn’t the book I expected, so it was tucked away unread on my bookshelf. My daughter Laura has been telling me to read this book for quite a while, so needing inspiration one day I pulled it out and started reading a verse a day. And as the old saying goes, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear”.

For nearly 20 years I have felt blessed to be able to do work that I love, but as my business has grown my role has changed and sometimes I find myself spending hours marking a never ending pile of assignments or troubleshooting administrative problems. This change in my daily routine took me away from feeling joyful and I found myself becoming increasingly irritable, negative and tired a lot of the time. Wayne’s book was the perfect reminder to take control of my thoughts.

It’s easy for anyone to be positive and happy when everything in life is flowing, it’s when life challenges us that we need to be conscious of where are thoughts are taking us. Being positive is not a state you reach and stay there. To live in a state of flow we need to be conscious and willing to change the way we respond.

I chose to be mindful whenever I found myself in a low energy state, or whenever I was tempted to moan about something that irritated me. Instead I focused on all I had to be grateful for. Before long I noticed how incredibly grateful I felt, even when marking assignments, my least favourite job. I thought, How lucky am I to be doing this work, guiding teachers and coaches who go out and make a positive difference.

Thoughts are not something you take control of once, they are something you need to check in on on a regular basis. People often say to me how positive they are, and in some areas they most likely are, but we are all dual beings and we can be both positive and negative at the same time.

OUR THOUGHTS AND WORDS AFFECT THE WORLD AROUND US

We need to be conscious of how our thoughts and words impact the world around us. Now we all know that the world is predominantly negative and it is very easy to get caught up in negative emotions, but by being optimistic, grateful, kind and light hearted we can have a positive influence on the world around us.

According to HeartMath the heart’s electromagnetic field contains coding which is transmitted throughout and outside of the body and that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding. HeartMath believe that care, compassion, love or other positive emotions not only transmit through our own bodies but are transferred externally to people in close proximity, and possibly over long distances.

This means that we are constantly projecting our emotions into the energy field of the world around us. If you have ever read about the studies carried out by the late Masaru Emoto[2] on water you may remember his findings on how emotions change the quality of water.

When words such as ‘thank you’ and ‘fool’ were wrapped around bottles of water with the words facing inwards, the bottles exposed to ‘thank you’ formed beautiful hexagonal crystals, whereas water exposed to the word ‘fool’ created similar results as water exposed to violent heavy metal music, which was dark and murky.

CHANGE YOURSELF AND THE WORLD AROUND YOU CHANGES

When something is not working in our lives our automatic response is often to change something externally, but when we shift our focus off changing what is and onto changing our response we become powerful. We don’t have control over much that happens in the world around us, but we always have control over our thoughts and that is what makes humans uniquely capable of changing themselves and the world around them.

Some of the coaches I train get fixated on marketing, particularly their lack of knowledge in this area, and I know some who have spent $20,000 on a course to learn how to market their businesses. Yet the most productive thing they can do, that will guarantee a positive return every time, is focus on adopting and maintaining a positive mindset. Living your life as if you already have your heart’s desires is way more powerful than intellectual knowledge.

By adopting the habit of being mindful whenever you find yourself experiencing any negative emotion, you learn to focus on the present, not the past or the future. By giving thanks for all the blessing you have you create an energy field that draws what want into your life. This is what the law of attraction is all about, it’s not about wishful thinking and something magically turns up.

Write yourself post it notes and place them in prominent places, put reminders into your phone to stop and be mindful. Change your thoughts to ones that always support you and you will find that your thoughts really can transform your life.

[1] https://www.heartmath.org/articles-of-the-heart/science-of-the-heart/the-energetic-heart-is-unfolding/

[2] Masaru Emoto, Hidden Messages in Water, Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books, New York, 2005