For me, mindfulness has been shrouded in mystery in the past, and as much as I believed that it contributed to decreased anxiety and stress, I didn’t exactly know how…
Be Mindful UK quotes that those who complete their mindfulness programme experience;
A 63% decrease in depression
A 58% reduction in anxiety
A 40% reduction in perceived stress
Turns out that anxiety and stress happen when the amygdalas take over, and we have what is termed ‘amygdala regulation.’
So that reaction when you’re sitting in traffic and some clever chap travels up the emergency land to pass you, or when you’re just about to send the long-drafted email and your laptop shuts down – that’s the amygdala taking over; often described as the eyes of the monster!
I took a fascinating look at a picture (functional MRI) of the amygdala in a study, which showed activation in the amygdala when participants were watching images with emotional content before learning meditation. After just eight weeks of training in mindful attention meditation, the amygdala is less activated after the meditation training.
So what we want is for that higher order brain – known as the prefrontal cortex – to take over and a state of prefrontal regulation to persist. And guess what enhances prefrontal regulation? Yip, mindfulness practice!
So how do we then make the leap to resilience? I’ve often heard resilience defined as the ability to ‘bounce back’, but in my brain study, I was provided with a 3 pronged definition;
The ability to prevent implosion in the presence of severe or prolonged stress
The ability to ‘bounce back’ after the stressor has subsided
The ability to grow through stressful events
And the scientific key to all of the above is prefrontal regulation, which allows the brain to respond with the most innovative solution.
So not only has mindfulness, or silencing the mind, been proven to shift brain regulation to the prefrontal cortex, but it has also been shown to enhance brain performance.
So where to start? I was impressed to learn that my 13 year old son’s drama teacher had recently introduced the practice into drama lessons. She informed me that she was using the Smiling Mind app, which I have introduced to my own household. I personally have been trying out the Headspace app. It’s all guided practices and you can start with chunks of 3 minutes, which are doable for those ‘in between’ moments.
My last hope for mindfulness is the link between ‘executive function’ and mindfulness. Executive function is of course a function of that prefrontal cortex, which is not fully formed in my two teens’ brains (only by age 24). But what I am hoping to enhance by their practice is;
improved working memory, for my ever- forgetful ADHD child, and a heightened ability to order and prioritise…
which again rests on a foundation of prefrontal regulation. I hope this isn’t too technical, but what I’m saying in short is that mindfulness is also being demonstrated to have great impact on the ADHD brain, whether adult or child.
So whether you’re seeking freedom from anxiety and depression, or greater innovation and resilience, it seems that little can go wrong in applying mindfulness to the equation and reaping the benefits.