First, let me explain the stress response. When we feel a sense of threat, a stress response is activated. The problem is, if we are continuously under stress (or continuously perceiving many things as stressful/threatening), we start experiencing a stress response more easily, and often inaccurately. If you know anyone who is highly irritable or quick to become tense, they may be experiencing high levels of perceived stress, and therefore their stress response is easily triggered.
This is where mindfulness comes in. If you practice mindfulness on a regular basis (5-20 minutes a day), your baseline level of stress is lower, and the inaccurate stress response becomes more difficult to trigger. This is a good thing! Don’t worry, when a real threat presents itself, you’ll still respond appropriately. (BTW, specific information about what mindfulness is, and how to achieve it, was addressed in my last email. If you deleted it or can't find it, reply to this email and let me know you'd like me to resend it to you!)
The key here is that mindfulness will lower your chances of an inaccurate response. You will be starting from a calmer place and will be able to more accurately categorize situations into threatening and non-threatening. And I would suggest that most situations are non-threatening.
These "perceived" threats can come in various forms: a scowl on the face of your roommate is interpreted as them being angry at you; a slow response by your significant other to text you back is interpreted as them not caring about you; your boss cancels a meeting with you and you interpret that as they are preparing to fire you; and the list goes on. A person with a buildup of stress may interpret all of these situations inaccurately, rather than naturally taking the time to pause and think about what might really be going on...
One important thing to know, is that not all stress is bad. In fact, some amount of stress can be motivating and protective. The goal is certainly not to eliminate stress (this is not humanly possible anyway) but rather to ACCURATELY perceive situations as threatening or non-threatening, and then respond accordingly.
Mindfulness teaches your brain to slow down and assess the situation more accurately rather than being constantly flooded with a stress response. This has implications for anxiety, depression and even chronic pain treatment. Mindfulness helps you let go of anxiety and fear. Meditation is one way to achieve mindfulness, which keeps the fight or flight response under control.
Mindfulness also has a positive impact on physical health such as blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and levels of various stress-related hormones. And let’s face it, mindfulness feels good! It’s nice to take a mental break for a minute and just enjoy being aware in the here and now.
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