How to Reduce Stress and Supercharge your Healing with Mindfulness
Posted on December 11 2018
Mindfulness and meditation have been getting a lot of attention lately. It is widely known that mindfulness and meditation help reduce chronic stress, anxiety and depression. But what many people are not aware of is that these practices are also effective in regulating the immune system and reducing the impact of chronic illness!
It is important to know that mindfulness practice can be summarized simply as 'awareness'.
Practicing awareness as you go about your day will reduce levels of stress and suffering, creating an environment in your body that is conducive to healing.
Awareness is to be fully and consciously alert to what is actually happening in the present moment. It is a skill that can be practiced over time.
As you become more aware you will be able to catch yourself when you start to get caught up in ruminating about the past or worrying about the future, resulting in a calmer, clearer mind and reduced stress levels.
This ability to reduce your overall load of stress and suffering can give you major gains in your healing journey.
You - yes YOU can practice mindfulness and even meditate!
Tried meditating and it didn't work for you because you couldn't 'turn off your brain'? Actually, the fact that you were AWARE enough to notice that your mind was wandering is the very point of meditation!
A common misconception of mindfulness and meditation is that the goal is to completely empty the mind of thoughts and that any thoughts that come up should be pushed away. This is simply not true!
You may be surprised to hear that even advanced meditators are not able to completely stop their minds from thinking. They too experience a never ending stream of thoughts that seemingly come out of nowhere.
The idea behind mindfulness is to be aware of thoughts and recognize them as… thoughts! Not as reality, not as YOU, just as thoughts.
When you can disassociate your thoughts from reality your body experiences less stress, creating more room for healing to take place.
How mindfulness and meditation can work for you
We have tens of thousands of thoughts EVERY DAY and we are actually aware of very few of them. Neuroscientists have confirmed what meditators have known for thousands of years... that we cannot control our thoughts. It is not yet fully understood where our thoughts come from. We DO however have control over how we respond to them. And this is where we can make a difference.
When faced with the many uncomfortable symptoms that accompany autoimmune diseases and chronic illness it is easy to get preoccupied Your thoughts will likely switch over to ‘analyzing mode’ and swirl around negative thoughts and harsh questions: Why is this happening to me? What is wrong with me? What did I do to deserve this?
This happens because are hard wired as human beings to react to threats – whether real or imagined – by going into fight or flight reactions. These fight or flight reactions were crucial for the evolution of our species and allowed our ancestors to physically fight or run away when faced with danger.
However in modern times this built in survival response can cause us a lot of unnecessary suffering. It’s now activated in everyday situations where it is not appropriate, like in traffic, a stressful day at work or when faced with flare ups of your chronic illness!
After the fight or flight response has been activated, when the perceived threat is gone, our built in relaxation response is designed to kick in and return the body to normal function.
But in these times of chronic stress, this often doesn’t happen and our minds begin to scroll through memories to try and find why we are feeling like this: Why is this migraine happening to me? Then it attempts to ‘solve’ the problem by digging up memories of when we felt this way in the past: What if this is the same as that migraine that lasted 3 days – I barely lived through that!
And finally the mind will create scenarios’ of what might happen in the future if we cannot explain what is going on now: If I can’t figure out what is causing these migraines I won’t be able to work and I will lose my job.
So now not only are we suffering from the pain of the migraine, but also a slew of other stressors that aren’t even real! These past and future worries are sources of unnecessary stress and suffering and can have negative effects on healing.
The empowering news is that with practice these unnecessary stressors can be greatly reduced!
The key is to understand and be aware of our tendencies as human beings to react to past and future worries. The only way to cease these worries is to shine the light of awareness on them.
“Past and future worries are sources of unnecessary stress and suffering and can have negative effects on your healing. The empowering news is – with practice these unnecessary stressors can be greatly reduced”
It’s also important to understand that our feelings and emotions are driven by our thoughts. Let that sink in a bit... our feelings and emotions are driven by our thoughts. Our feelings and emotions are driven by our thoughts. Hmmmm.
This means that when we use awareness to catch ourselves when being pulled by stressful memories and negative self talk we become empowered to have some control over not only our thoughts but also our feelings and emotions, empowering us to suffer LESS and heal MORE!
Final thoughts on mindfulness and meditation as a tool for healing
As discussed, we cannot stop thoughts from popping into our heads – but with the practice of mindfulness and awareness we can stop the vicious circle from feeding off itself and triggering the next spiral of negative thoughts. The result is reduced stress levels and an increased sense of well-being leading to a better healing environment in your body so you can thrive in your life, even when living with illness.
Strategies to improve awareness
The practice of mindfulness involves becoming aware of your thoughts; positive, negative or neutral.
When you are trying to heal it is especially important to catch yourself when you start slipping into negative thought patterns. It is important not to beat yourself up about having the negative thoughts and to just acknowledge them with kindness and curiosity.
So the next time your catch yourself in a negative spiral: “What if this is the same as my worst flare 3 years ago – I barely lived through that!” you can recognize the thought, remember that it is a thought and not reality, and with the same kindness you would offer to a good friend respond with:“hello thoughts about my past health challenges, I see you there”.
You are not pushing the thought away or getting frustrated for having the thought – instead you are congratulating yourself on catching it with your awareness. Just being aware of the thoughts and acknowledging them with kindness is enough to diffuse them.
Incorporating Mindfulness and Meditation into your daily life
A formal meditation practice can really help to strengthen your ability to be aware of your inner dialogue and you don’t need to be able to sit on the floor with your legs in a pretzel for hours on end to practice meditation. You can start with just one minute per day!
If you would like to learn how to adopt a mindfulness and meditation practice into your life I highly recommend Live and Dares online 5-week mindfulness for beginners course. This course not only teaches the student how to meditate, it also teaches how to implement meditation practice into daily life so it becomes a habit. The course is also great for those who have had a meditation practice in the past and would like to get back into it.
For experienced meditators, Live and Dare also offers an intermediate 40 day online course that goes more in depth and introduces meditators to 10 different meditation techniques to facilitate a deeper practice.
I hope you found this information useful and are able to introduce some mindfulness and meditation into your healing protocol and into your daily life! If you have any questions about this post, please feel free to send me a note or post in the comments below.