Stress is a natural reaction to changes in our environment — it’s our mind’s way of saying, “Whoa! I’m not ready to adapt to this.” The start of a new school term brings stress for students, educators, staff, and communities (all that extra traffic!), so it seems like the perfect time to consider a very effective method of dealing with stress: mindfulness.
Mindfulness is intentional awareness and acceptance of what is happening. It can be combined with other practices, such as meditation or prayer, but can also just be a part of everyday activities. While it’s simple, it’s also challenging – our brains are trained from a young age to multi-task and to split our attention among competing stimuli. We are also used to reacting to that stimuli without really thinking about why or how we are responding. Mindfulness requires practice.
Noticing, (“This printer is not working,”) refraining from judging (hating the printer, fretting over the missing document or lost time), and accepting (I’ll just have to troubleshoot) can shift our attention and deter stress reactions (raised voice, elevated heart rate, feelings of anger, worry, frustration). There’s no denial involved; mindfulness isn’t about ignoring or glossing over difficult situations; we observe the challenge, notice our feelings, and let it all pass with our equilibrium likely intact. Mindfulness increases our own well being and improves our interactions with others.
Science shows that it also literally changes our minds. Dr. Richard Davidson is famous for studying Tibetan monks’ brains, as well as pre-schoolers and veterans (a Danish documentary about his work will be out soon). Davidson’s research indicates mindfulness “re-wires” our brains. Jon Kabat-Zinn has written extensively on the health benefits of mindfulness, particularly in managing stress, pain, and depression.
So if you’re sitting in morning traffic or starting a new semester, juggling schedules or sending a child to college, balancing your budget or looking for work, answering reference questions or troubleshooting network issues, try a little mindfulness.