how to deal with stress and negativity of modern-day living
by Dr Rohini Vijaygopal
We all want to be happy and this is a goal we strive towards more often than we attain it.
Even when we do achieve momentary satisfaction, we analyse the past moments of pleasure and pain in order to think about maximising future pleasure and avoiding future pain.
This unsatisfactory nature of our existence stems from our evolutionary process. Our ancestors lived in fight or flight mode – if they thought there was a tiger behind the bushes when it was actually a rock, this was unnecessary anxiety. Conversely, if they thought it was a rock behind the bushes when it was actually a tiger, the cost of making this mistake was death.
Hence we humans have evolved to make the first mis take innumerable times in order to refrain from making the second mistake even once. Although this negative bias actually emerged in very harsh settings, it contin ues to operate within our relatively safe environments. Moreover, in the evolutionary sense, we pursue pleas ure and avoid pain in order to perpetuate our DNA. However, whether we shop, enjoy holidays, or do what ever that is seemingly pleasurable, we need more and more in order to maintain the same level of
Historically, cultures around the world developed dif ferent methods that alleviate this sense of negativity bias in order to feel safer in an uncertain world.
Mindfulness meditation is one such method which was introduced 2,500 years ago within Buddhist psy chology and is designed to interrupt
esses of mind – the inherent
In the modern world, we live automatic pilot – thoughtlessly, which we have become accustomed living brings pain, stress and an
By meditating, we slow down, take reflect, increase awareness in order With a quiet mind, the haze solve and solutions to problems pondering over unexpectedly show to wonder how we missed things all along. Hence a calm mind is a
Benefits of mindfulness meditation Education: Young children are ness if they are fortunate to receive ever, as they grow, they slowly sense of calm, especially with all tions of the modern age. In years, hormones and increasing impinge upon their coping
Some face adversities in life that not equipped to nip in the bud.
Anthony Seldon, headmaster Wellington College in the UK, said: “I came across work from the United States which showed young people can be ‘taught’ how to be happier and better able to cope with adversity. I instigated happiness classes at my school. I also decided to begin my weekly staff meetings with a peri od of stillness or mindfulness.”
Research suggests that quietening the mind and height ening awareness through meditation and controlled breathing helps clear the minds and assist sharpening students’ focus, reduce their stress and anxiety, and boost academic performance. As Norman Lamb, former minister of state for Care and Support in the UK parlia ment, stated in the forward to Future in Mind, 2015, “Our childhood has a profound effect on our adult lives. Many mental health conditions in adulthood show their first signs in childhood and, if left untreated, can de velop into conditions which need regular care.”
Thus intervening early, rather than just reacting when problems are already getting worse is, put simply, the best way to prevent issues in later life. Mindfulness meditation is the best life insurance policy that a parent can give to their children.
Health: Rick Hansen (neuropsychologist) and Richard Mendius (neurologist) rightly say that “neurons that fire together wire together” – what happens in our mind changes our brain. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation is vital in maintaining optimum
As long as we live and love, some amount of physical and emotional discomfort is unavoidable. However, when we add our reactions to these occurrences, this is when the real problems of anger, agitation, guilt and hatred seep into our systems, adding suffering. Emo tions intensify, the brain is now on alert, the sympa thetic nervous system is lit up, the heart rate increases, pupils dilate, the immune sys tem is suppressed and the fight or flight system is activated. What is the cost? Gastrointestinal problems, immune system issues, car diovascular and en docrine responses. At a mental level, this translates in to anxiety, de pression, and mood swings. At the same time, the body has the poten tial for the .
‘rest and digest’ response – commonly known as the relaxation response – thus not reacting to the fight or flight response. We could strengthen the neural factors of an ‘equanimity response’ by practicing meditation.
In fact, the landmark British report on mindfulness presented to the UK parliament in December last year, presents research that mindfulness meditation helps not only in mental conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression but also in the treatment of physical health problems, particularly in patients living with cancer, lower back pain, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syn drome, arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome.
Work: Recent research from Harvard suggests that health issues arising out of job stress (hypertension, poor men tal health, cardiovascular disease) actually kills more than 120,000 people a year in the United States. Work- related stress is one of the top five causes of death, as much as accidents and is, in fact, more lethal than dia betes. We end up doing excessive work when the bal ance starts tipping towards our wants rather than our needs and our lives become a rat race. We move from one activity to another without really thinking about what we are doing, in an ‘automatic pilot mode’.
Mindfulness helps break this mindset. It allows us to manage our emotions as well as the emotions of others (EQ). It also lets us face problems with a positive atti tude rather than avoiding them, thus improving resil ience. Mindfulness creates a space for new ideas and enhances creativity. It helps us move from reacting to responding, calmly explaining our frustrations to sen iors while still maintaining composure.
Mindfulness meditation is today’s stress antidote for organisations and it doesn’t come as a surprise when prominent Fortune 500 companies like Procter & Gam ble, Google and General Mills have instituted such pro grammes within their
They claim that it has re duces employee stress and enhances productivity.
To conclude, it is important not to treat mindfulness meditation as yet another passing fad. It is precisely the opposite of this, being at least 2,500 years old. Nor is mindfulness traditional religion bottled in a new pack age. Although the practice was refined in Buddhism, it does appear in various forms in many traditions, cul tures, religions and philosophies of the world.
However, it is important to remember that commit ment to regular practice is the only way to reap the full benefits. Prof Jon
from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, says, “Your meditation practice will only be as powerful as your motivation to dispel the fog of your own lack of awareness. When you are in this fog, it is hard to remember the importance of practicing mindfulness and you can easily get caught up and get stuck in this fog and not even know it.”
Therefore, mindfulness is a journey of a lifetime, giv ing us tools to get in touch with our true selves, who we actually are, by consciously shaping our minds to shape our brains for nothing other than calm, joy and com passion, a life of happiness, love and wisdom, enjoying the silence of our own mind and body at peace.
Dr Rohini Vijaygopal is a senior lecturer and research er with a UK business school as well as a holistic well- being consultant associated with the Mindfulness Foundation UK.