Our emotions reflect our biology.
This is an important fact that we tend to forget when dealing with stressful situations. Emotions are simply the end result of our neurons firing, and activating neurotransmitters to create connections between our brain cells, which then release hormones that produce the physical sensations we identify as emotions.
We might feel a flutter in our abdomen that we recognize as anxiety, a heavy knot in our chest that we know to be sadness or a headache that is the result of worry and tense muscles. All of these are the result of stress hormones flooding our body. Typically, we don’t notice these sensations, only observing them when they begin to cause a problem like a headache or uncontrollable thoughts that make us want to run from speaking up in a meeting. But what if we could step back and notice what is happening within us before we get to the point of being stressed out, before the physical knots and tension work their way into our body, before we snap at someone in anger.
Increasing your awareness of the physical sensations in your body can give you insight into the connections between your thoughts, emotions and behavior. It can act as an early warning signal that you are experiencing stress and give you an opportunity to deal with it before it becomes harmful.
This is the key to self-management. By taking time to observe your physical body in a range of situations you can grow to understand the signals it is sending you. Most of us are out of touch with ourselves in a number of ways, but the focus in education and the workplace on mental achievement takes us away from our bodies and relegates the messages it tries to convey as meaningless. But your biochemistry affects everything that happens to you. It affects your health, it affects the way you relate to other people, how you feel about yourself and how you are able to perform at work. If you increase your awareness of how it affects you then you become able to change your behavior and emotional responses to situations.
Regaining control of our emotional responses through mindfulness
Mindfulness allows you to identify and modify the biological processes that occur in your body. Take the time to sit and observe what is happening within. What are the physical sensations you experience? How do they relate to your emotions? Mindfulness stops the brain form impulsively reacting and allows the higher functions of the human brain to step in and choose a better response to the situation. The more that you practice these skills the stronger and more developed the prefrontal cortexes of the brain that transmute stress become. And as an extra bonus the more developed these neuronal networks are the faster you will recover from stress and get back into the swing of daily life.
How to Practice
- Sit comfortably somewhere you won’t be disturbed. It doesn’t matter if it is for an hour or a few minutes. Ideally when you are learning, try to sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Let your gaze rest wherever it lands, it is not focused just resting. Close your eyes if it is easier.
- Bring your attention to your body and notice the physical sensations that you feel. Don’t try to analyze them, simply notice them.
- If your attention wanders- and it will!- gently bring it back to your body and your experience.
- This is not about making your mind blank. It is about noticing your experience and coming to know yourself in a non-judgmental and accepting manner.
Make time for yourself every day in small ways and your self-knowledge will increase allowing you to change your responses to situations and emotions allowing you greater control over your life and actions.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Kate Price is an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. She has 20 years’ experience working with individuals, groups and organizations enabling them to overcome difficulties and develop skills in life and leadership. Contact her at [email protected] or visit www.drkateprice.com