As we know, when life gets tough and we are stressed, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode. This is the primitive and automatic response of our body to protect us from danger and threats to our survival. When we are preparing for our next big exam or we are overwhelmed with the thought of being behind our work, we get that fight and flight process going in our mind and in our body and we all know how awful that feeling is!
In 1932, Walter Cannon, a Harvard physiologist discovered the “fight or flight” mechanism initiated by our brain and developed throughout our body to prepare us to fight or escape from a particular threat. When we are in danger from an external stimulus, “a sequence of nerve cells fire and release chemicals in our brain. The release of chemicals, such as cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, into our blood stream causes an increase in our respiratory rate, blood running from our digestive track to our limbs and muscles, and the dilation of our pupils. Our sight sharpens, our immune system activity increases, and we prepare to fight or escape danger.”
When life gets hard and too busy and we anticipate trouble, we have thoughts that are restless, irrational and incomplete. Our mind tricks us to believe that one isolated problem or two is the source of our misery. Our brain’s fight or flight mode becomes activated and the neurons create new pathways to only awaken similar emotions and memories in the brain while triggering the same fear-based feelings. The result? The same emotions triggered in our mind create similar pathways and this goes on and on. Our body responds by sending blood into our extremities, and our brain excretes cortisol and other chemicals. These hormones in turn create stress and anxiety, which ultimately affects our thinking process and causes us to make poor decisions.
When this happens, we are perceiving everything as a threat to our safety or survival, and we become super alert to everything in our environment. We overreact to the comments and reactions of others and everything is filtered through a fear-based lens. It is almost impossible to think positive thoughts and attitudes. Our heart is closed as our unconscious mind becomes focused on fear, not love.
We feel unappreciated, lonely and sick. We think we need to fight to gain that respect, appreciation or love that we deserve and don’t have. We make up our mind to show others our worth or to regain our strength by becoming sour and unkind towards situations and people. In fact, we think that by taking control of the situation and fighting it, we will gain the battle.
This is the start of an unfortunate and vicious cycle. Poor decisions create problems that put us in more stressful situations, and as stress has a direct correlation with the weakening of the immune system, we also become physically sick. Poor health will negatively impact our social and professional lives, resulting in more stress and sickness. This cycle goes on forever until a major event awakens us or destroys our lives all together.
Stop for a moment, and ask yourself, where did this cycle start and where did it lead? How can you treat the problem at the source before it expands to takeover all aspects of your life?
The answer, as recommended by many experts in the area of self-development, psychology, conflict resolution and other areas exploring mental health, is simply living a more mindful life.
Mindfulness is being focused, present and vigilant. Mindfulness is a state of mind but should be practiced frequently in order to master it.
What are the signs when you are mindful?
- You live in the present moment. You try to not think about the past or be worried about the future.
- You feel you are responsible for your life and your mistakes.
- You are open minded and know life is about learning and making mistakes.
- You accept and love yourself.
- You forgive yourself and others.
- You are in control of your emotions and you are focused.
- And last but not least, you question the authenticity of your thoughts.
As all problems originate in our minds, the ability to change uncontrollable or stressful thoughts right at the origin is the best indication of mindfulness. We need to quiet the mind chatter of the fear-based, irrational and restless thoughts. We should detect and dissect the fight and flight reactions from physical to emotional symptoms in order to control the stress and damage caused when there is no real danger to us or our safety.
Every time you feel stressed or overwhelmed about an issue, be inquisitive and ask yourself if the thought could be inaccurate, unrealistic, or unreasonable. Give yourself a break from the thought and try to change your focus onto something that can momentarily generate feelings of happiness and positive emotions. Go back to the thought later when you are not anxious or emotional.
Being open to new ideas, solutions and information is also a sign of mindfulness. Being receptive of other’s point of views or new conditions creates peace in the now, and open new doors to resolution.
Practicing gratitude works if we learn to stay in control of the trickery our mind plays on us when life is hard. Believing that everything will work out at the end creates a feeling of relief as well as trust in the universe and that this mind shift will take our attention away from negativity.
So let’s wrap up these ideas with some useful takeaways:
- Avoid unnecessary stress and the stressor, and control your environment
- Adapt to stressors by reframing the problem and looking at the bigger picture
- Change your perception of reality by thinking positively and by disciplining yourself to not take everything personally
- Quiet the mind chatter by practicing meditation, yoga and other techniques such as positive word repetition during physical activities, singing or chanting a word or phrase that makes you happy, deep breathing exercises, etc.
- Be forgiving and kind
- Accept things you cannot change
- Make an effort to have time for fun and rejuvenation
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle by eating healthy, cutting back on stimulants, such as coffee, sugar and alcohol
- Get enough sleep and make time to exercise
- Spend time in nature
- Practice gratitude daily by counting three or more things you are grateful for
- Stay in control of which thoughts enters your mind. When you actively acknowledge that your thoughts are becoming negative, simply disregard the thought and turn your attention to something that creates comfort and peace for you.
Quieting the chatter of your mind is the first, and perhaps the most important, step in becoming mindful. Be patient with yourself, and in the beginning try to practice mind relaxation techniques when you are calm.
Restless thoughts initiate turmoil and disturb tranquility. The intent of restless mind is to overprotect us from dangers that are most often fabricated by our thoughts. Instead, we need to calm the waves created on the surface of the mind in order to see the bottom of the ocean more clearly, to have an unobstructed perspective, and to live a quality life.
So a happy life is possible by becoming mindful and centered; by aligning our mind and body and spirit to allow the positive energy of gratitude to flow better through meditation and quieting of our minds.