As first seen in National Geographic Traveller
How does a wellness expert and award-winning author maintain focus? Dr Rachel Thomas reveals how to gain some headspace everyday:
A work email, an overrunning meeting, or an upcoming deadline can all trigger our body’s stress response.
This can cause floods of hormones including cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. They increase our heart rate and blood pressure, helping us escape threats, theoretically by fighting or fleeing. Historically, this worked well. Yet these days, this system isn’t just activated by seeing a lion, and then resolved when we have escaped it. It’s repeatedly triggered by many things, especially during our work days, leaving us in a state of chronic stress.
Luckily there are effective techniques to help manage this, including mindfulness. This type of mindfulness doesn’t incorporate religious overtones or dogma. It’s basically having an awareness of what is happening in your mind, and body, in the present - observing this, without judgement. We know we should exercise our body for health benefits, and mindfulness is like jogging for the mind. With the added bonus of being able to do it in our lunch break without getting sweaty!
5 steps to mindfulness that you can even do sitting at your office desk:
1/ sit in a chair with your spine supported, your knees hip width apart, and your feet on the floor. Close your eyes or look at the floor
2/ take a deep breath, and settle for a moment
3/ gently start to focus on physical sensations, such as the pressure of your feet on the floor, or the air passing in through your nostrils
4/ when thoughts appear, gently notice them, and try not to get tangled in them
5/ bring your attention back to a physical feeling, again, such as the sensation of your feet touching the floor, or the rush of air into your nose.
Our brains undergo structural and functional changes in response to stress. Mindfulness training has been shown in studies to enhance the density of grey-matter in the hippocampus, an area important for functions including long-term memory and navigation. Findings also support that after mindfulness training, there are reductions in grey-matter density in the amygdala, an area of the brain important for processing emotions such as fear and anxiety. Some types of mindfulness have been shown to decrease cortisol secretion that is stress-induced. Overall, evidence supports that mindfulness is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, positive outlook and improved emotional and behavioural regulation.
Tang Y, Holzel BK, Posner MI, The Neuroscience of mindfulness meditation, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16, 213-225 (2015)
Keng S, Smoski M and Robins C, Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A review of Empirical Studies, Clinical Psychology Review 32 (6): 1041-1056 (2011) ]