There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what mindfulness is and what meditation can do for those who practice it. In this video, professors, neuroscientists, psychologists, composers, authors, and a former Buddhist monk share their experiences, explain the science behind meditation, and discuss the benefits of learning to be in the moment. “Mindfulness allows us to shift our relationship to our experience,” explains psychologist Daniel Goleman. The science shows that long-term meditators have higher levels of gamma waves in their brains even when they are not meditating. The effect of this altered response is yet unknown, though it shows that there are lasting cognitive effects. “I think we’re looking at meditation as the next big public health revolution,” says ABC News anchor Dan Harris. “Meditation is going to join the pantheon of no-brainers like exercise, brushing your teeth and taking the meds that your doctor prescribes to you.” Closing out the video is a guided meditation experience led by author Damien Echols that can be practiced anywhere and repeated as many times as you’d like.
We all know the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety. Our hearts race, our fingers sweat, and our breathing gets shallow and labored. We experience racing thoughts about a perceived threat we fear will be too much to handle. That’s because our “fight or flight” response has kicked in, resulting in sympathetic arousal and a narrowing of attention and focus on avoiding the threat. We seem to be locked in that state, unable to focus on our daily chores or longer-term goals. Below are six strategies that you can use to help relieve your everyday anxiety:
- Reevaluate the probability of the threatening event actually happening.
Anxiety makes us feel that a threat is imminent, yet most of the time what we worry most about never happens. By recording our worries—and how few actually came true—we can notice how much we overestimate the prospect of negative events.
Even if a bad event happened, we may still be able to handle it by using coping skills and problem-solving abilities or by enlisting others to help. Although not pleasant, we could still survive encountering a spider, having a panic attack, or losing money. It’s important to realize that very few things are the end of the world.
- Use deep breathing and relaxation.
By deliberately relaxing our muscles we begin to calm down so we can think clearly. If you practice this at first without a threat present, it can start to become automatic and will be easier to use in the moment when you face a threat. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system to put the brakes on sympathetic arousal.
- Become mindful of your own physical and mental reactions.
The skill of mindfulness involves calmly observing our own reactions, including fear, without panic or feeling compelled to act. It can be taught in therapy and improves with practice.
- Accept fear and commit to living a life based on core values.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that encourages people to accept the inevitability of negative thoughts and feelings and not try to repress or control them. By directing attention away from the fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals, we can live a full life despite the fear.
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.