Mindfulness – Not Just Another To-Do

Does it ever seem like the things that are supposed to make your life easier actually make it more hectic? When we are so over-burdened with a million other things going on in our lives, is it really worth the time to sit down and do something like practice mindfulness or meditate?

The average American works 47 hours a week, and according to the American Psychological Associate, it is estimated that 70% of Americans experience significant stress related to their work.  So how can we find time to add yet another task to the list?  Experts say that practicing mindfulness can help to develop a resilient mindset and reduce stress.

Being mindful – a non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.

To be mindful means we are being fully present in the current moment. Seems simple right? But so often our minds veer off course and our thoughts wander away from what we are supposed to be focusing on, or even more commonly, we are multi-tasking and never paying full attention to one thing at a time. When we practice mindfulness we typically will focus primarily on our breathing. A very popular form of practicing mindfulness is to meditate, and this can be done while sitting, standing or walking. As we begin to develop our skills in mindfulness we are able to rewire our brains for the better.

Many people who work in careers that are synonymous with a heavy workload and long hours are now turning to mindfulness to help them manage the stress associated with the job. Many law schools and law firms are utilizing mindfulness and meditation. This is because there is a direct correlation that mindfulness and meditation reduce anxiety.

Practicing Mindfulness Reduces Anxiety

In a Massachusetts General Hospital study which analyzed a randomized controlled trial of mindfulness meditation for generalized anxiety disorder found that mindfulness can lead to profound effects on anxiety and stress reactivity. The study observed 93 people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which were randomly assigned to an 8-week group intervention with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or to a control group, stress management education (SME). The group that went through the MBSR program was associated with a significantly greater reduction in anxiety. The results of the study suggested that meditation and practicing being mindful may have a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms and help to improve stress reactivity and coping as measured in a laboratory stress challenge.

And because practicing mindfulness changes the brain’s wiring, this leads to decreased chance of developing mental illnesses. Researchers at the University of Oregon found that after two weeks of practicing mindfulness, study participants had an increase in the number of signaling connections in the brain, called axonal density and after a month of practicing mindfulness, there was an increase in protective tissue (called myelin) around the axons in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate region. Mindfulness is also linked to decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Enhancing Engagement Through Being Mindful

Mindfulness also helps to reduce distractions and enhance cognition. A Harvard Medical School study finds that mindfulness can improve the ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm, which is how the brain essentially tunes out distracting information. According to Catherine Kerr of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School (HMS), co-lead author of the report, “Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall… Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”
According to Kerr, this might also help explain why mindfulness practices have been linked to decrease in pain perception.

So now you’re thinking, “Okay yeah yeah, there are some amazing benefits to mindfulness, but I still don’t have the time.” Maybe this will help – mindfulness also has positive effects on kids! Yep, that is right, you can actually practice mindfulness with your family, and everyone will reap the benefits.

One Denver elementary school is using mindfulness to teach gratitude and appreciation. Because of the recent research discovering that mindfulness helps students maintain more control of their emotions and surroundings, last year the school implemented a program designed specifically towards enhancing mindfulness. According to Melissa Kauffman, director of the mindfulness program at the elementary school, “When I designed this mindfulness program, I was hoping to teach students to self-regulate and have a toolbox for mindful tactics to use in their daily lives. After taking mindfulness classes, students understand how to maintain focus in and outside of schools, how to be aware of their emotions and senses without judgments, and how to be in the present moment.”

Students are taught to maintain a moment-by-moment awareness of their thoughts, emotions, body sensations and surrounding environment in fifteen minute durations, twice a month.

According to Brent Applebaum, the school’s assistant principal, the program has paid off in fewer conflicts and easing test anxiety among students.

Organizational Resilience Training

Mindfulness is an important part of TRACOM’s Resiliency Model. Specifically, one such strategy featured in TRACOM’s program to practice mindfulness involves monitoring when we are only paying partial attention, breathing properly, and substituting a new routine every now and then. By practicing mindfulness, we can transform our negative internal experiences and cultivate a new, much more positive brain state. One direct way to practice mindfulness is through meditating.

TRACOM’s Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency Model defines resiliency not just as bouncing back in times of adversity, but bouncing forward. This means finding opportunities in challenges and using creative problem-solving to move forward. In other words, one of the essential components of resiliency is the ability to generate innovative, flexible solutions. In our training program, we explicitly address the issues of habitual thought processes and behaviors. Those who are resilient challenge themselves to alter their current habits and ways of behaving and thinking. Thanks to research in neuroplasticity we know that we can re-wire our brains and change our patterns of thought.