How many times have you said something out loud and later thought “I shouldn’t have said that?” People have lost jobs, relationships and even freedom based on actions or statements that “just happened.” On live television, there is a seven second delay to allow for some control of how the network presents its programming. Unfortunately, no one provides that service for us in our lives. There is no rewind or “do over” button to erase the things we do impulsively. The closest we can come to that seven second delay is “mindfulness.”
Google defines mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.” It includes being aware of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and surrounding environment. Being mentally present in the moment helps us learn to regulate our emotional responses.
Jon Kabatt-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic. As an author and professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, he has led trainings and inspired wide-spread mindfulness practices for emotional healing. Meditation and yoga are classic mindfulness practices, but each of us can practice being mindful in our everyday life. Noticing our senses-what we see, feel, smell, and hear can bring our attention out of our thoughts and into the experience of what is going on around us and/or within us. Taking time to notice how our bodies feel when we are angry or anxious helps to alert us to the process of becoming upset. Being able to recognize the warning signs allows us time to de-escalate. It provides a “stop and decide” moment when we can notice and name what we are feeling. One such exercise is a body scan in which we mentally work our way from head to toe noticing any physical sensations in each area of the body as we scan. We can also do mindful breathing in which we breathe in to the count of four- noticing the feeling of the air entering our nostrils, hold the breath for the count of six-noticing the feeling of our lungs being full of air, then exhale to the count of 8 as if we are blowing through a straw-imagining that stream of air taking away any stress.
Regular mindful self-awareness can actually increase the number of connections in the brain between the pre-frontal cortex that controls impulse, and the midbrain that contains the “fight or flight” emotional/stress center of the brain. We can practice that emotional regulation that allows us to notice our emotions and make a decision about how we will respond. In other words, we can learn to build in our own “seven second delay.”
Patricia Harthun LCPC, CADC, MT-BC incorporates mindfulness into her counseling and will be leading a Stress Management and Mindfulness seminar 3p-5p at Beverly Therapists on Saturday February 11, 2017. Click here for more information and to sign up.