Neuroscientists over the last few years have come out with amazing research showing us that we actually have the capacity to rewire our brains. They are showing us that what we focus our attention on and how we focus it has significant impact on how our brains work. In other words, whatever we focus our attention on is reinforced in the wiring of the brain. They call this Neuroplasticity and it’s changing the way we view the power we have with our own mental health.
We are coming to understand that have the ability to make a choice to shift our attention onto things that support our happiness and well-being. Well, you might say “easier said than done, I don’t feel like I have a choice with my intrusive thoughts or my pain, it just arrives and takes hold of me.” This is very true. However, you do have a choice in how you relate to the thoughts , emotions, and pain. Most of us are simply don’t have the tools that can help us relate differently.
Acclaimed author and Psychiatrist Victor Frankl, M.D. said, “Between a stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”.
Most of us are simply unaware of that space in between the moment we become triggered and the moment we react. The problem is when we get triggered or something becomes distressing, we immediately try and “fix it”. Our mind goes into a state of urgency adding stress onto our current lot of distress. In other words, just compounding it.
We can learn how to pay attention differently to our distress. Instead of trying to fix things we might just acknowledge the discomfort and bring attention to the breath and attempt to “be” with it instead of trying to “do” something about it. It’s in this ineffective habitual strategy of “doing” that compounds the issue. When we can learn to be with it, we also start to realize that the discomfort isn’t permanent and it passes, like everything else. When we come to realize this, over time, it doesn’t …
I often say that there are two things we can count on in this life besides death and taxes and that is stress and pain. Two thirds of Americans claim that they are likely to seek help for stress (American Psychological Association) and over 19 million Americans alone suffer from some form of anxiety. While this may seem like depressing statistics, it’s important to know and acknowledge the facts. When we know what the issues are, we can work toward a plan to alleviate then which cultivates the strength of hope.
However, it’s important to clarify that the problem isn’t stress. The problem is how we relate to the stress. Let me briefly lay the foundation for how a stress reaction works. Back in the day when we used to experience life-threatening situations (e.g., getting chased by a tiger), our blood got redirected to our muscles as our bodies got geared up to either fight or flee for the situation. This stress response is critical to our survival. It can save our lives or enable a firefighter to carry a 300-pound man down twenty flights of stairs. However, most of us don’t face these type of threats very often today, but instead a stress reaction is often created in response to a thought, emotion or physical sensation we have. If we’re actively worried about whether we’re going to be able to put food on the table or not getting the perfect score on the next exam, this reaction will be activated. If these systems don’t slow down and normalize, the effects can become disastrous and we can succumb to a variety of ailments including high blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety, insomnia, gastro-digestive complaints, and a suppressed immune system which compromises the ability to fight disease.
So what can you do?
Creating space to come down from the worried mind and back into the present moment has been shown to be enormously helpful to people. When we are present we have a firmer grasp of all our options and resources which often make us feel better. Next time you find your mind racing with stress, try the acronym
S – Stop …
Welcome to the Mindfulness and Psychotherapy blog’s grand opening! I want to thank John Grohol Psy.D., for inviting me to host a blog about the intersection of mindfulness, mental health, and stress-reduction in daily life. What is mindfulness? Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to the present moment while putting aside our preconceived ideas, expectations, and judgments. It is being in connection with the here and now. Over the past 30 years there has been a buildup of evidence-based research using mindfulness practice to work with difficult medical and mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, relationships, addiction, insomnia, chronic pain, immune function, cancer, trauma, and more.
Over the coming months I will be posting news, studies, and advice to help you integrate mental health and mindfulness strategies into your daily life. While mindfulness practice is thousands of years old, with rising statistics in stress and distressing disorders there isn’t a more important time than today to learn about how it intersects with mental health. Many programs have been created to support people with various conditions of suffering that include mindfulness. These include Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for depression, Mindfulness-based Relapse Prevention (MBRP) for addictive behaviors, Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness-based Relationship Enhancement (MBRE), Mindfulness-based Behavioral therapy (MBBT) for obsessive compulsive disorder, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and more approaches being created as you read this.
Although I will be providing you with interesting information and tips, the most important part of this process is you. We now know that the most effective way for people to change is through community and feedback. So whether you are a mental health professional, someone struggling with mental health issues, or just interested in this topic, I hope you return and engage as education, practice, and community interaction are important for all of us to learn, grow, and change. If you have any thoughts, comments, or questions, please feel free to always connect through the comment section below. I will try to respond to what is written, but best of all is that your writing becomes part of a living wisdom that so many others can benefit from.
I’d like to introduce our newest blog at Psych Central, Mindfulness & Psychotherapy, by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., a Los Angeles clinical psychologist in private practice. He is a teacher of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) approach, and is a perfect professional to write about mindfulness in life and in psychotherapy, as well as about more general psychotherapy topics.
I’m pleased to have Dr. Goldstein join us and look forward to his future entries here.