Welcome to the third installment of my series on mental resiliency. Let’s start off with a quick recap of what we’ve covered so far: In the first part we talked about compassion fatigue — secondary traumatic stress disorder — and how that ties into having a resilient mind; and in the second part we talked about some of the fundamental differences between people who are very resilient — those who bounce back quickly from emotional setbacks — and people who lack resiliency — those who cannot cope with emotional setbacks effectively. If you have not read parts one and two yet, I recommend you do so you can keep up with what we will be covering today: exercising your mind to become more resilient.
If you remember from last week, we talked about how the left-prefrontal cortex is the culprit when someone lacks mental resiliency. Basically, it comes down to the left-prefrontal cortex — associated with logic and reasoning — not doing its job of quieting down the amygdala after a setback occurs because the connection between those two parts of the brain is weak. So this week I’m going to share with you some exercises you can do to workout your prefrontal cortex and strengthen that weak connection.
Before we get to that, let me just remind you that I’m making the assumption your goal is to become more resilient. Remember, you can train your mind to become too resilient — resilient to the point that it is not healthy. So, if you find that you already have a high level of resiliency, you may want to skip these exercises, and perhaps work on developing more compassion instead — resiliency and compassion kind of balance each other out, like yin and yang.
Mindfulness meditation is the best exercise you can start on to build up your resiliency. Mindfulness meditation is perfect for this because it brings balance, emotionally and mentally. This will help break the spiral of negative thoughts that arise from adversities, such as, “I was reprimanded at work,” to “I’m going to get fired,” to “I’m going to be homeless” to “I hate myself and I want to die.”
I think at some point or another, we’ve all had thought processes somewhere along those lines. It starts with a real event that takes place, like someone you care about schedules a doctors appointment because they’re not feeling well, and before they even see the doctor to find out if anything is in fact wrong with them, you’re already jumping to conclusions in your mind, envisioning the worst, and obsessing these thoughts.
As odd as it may seem, one of the best things you can do without any training at all to break that cycle, is simply observe that you are thinking that way. The next time you find yourself obsessing on negative thoughts, worrying too much, thinking yourself into a hole… just simply take notice of the fact you are doing this, and say something to yourself, like, “This is just something my brain does. I should stop.” Once you are able to do this for the first time, not only will it make real, physical changes in your brain, you will have just done your first mindfulness meditation exercise — albeit a very, very short exercise, but an exercise nonetheless. All that matters is that you interrupted your thought process to make an observation; you stopped that endless stream of chatter and noise in your mind, to say, “Huh, look at that.”
The next exercise you start on is mindfulness breathing meditation. With this exercise, instead of just taking a moment to make an observation, you are going to concentrate your mind on your breathing for a much longer amount of time — about 15 to 30 minutes is good for your first session, and then work your way up to about 30 minutes a day. Here are three steps to get you started:
- Find a quiet place where you can be alone without any interruptions or distractions.
- Get in a comfortable position. You don’t have to sit on the floor with your legs crossed; you can sit in a chair, or on the floor, or your bed, or you can even stand if that’s how you’re most comfortable.
- Gently close your eyes. Begin focusing on your breathing. Actually think about every breath you take; notice the feeling of the air entering and exiting your body; notice your lungs expanding and contracting; notice everything you can about your breathing, but do not notice anything else. Any time a thought enters your mind that does not have to do with breathing — work, bills, friends, family, what’s for dinner, a catchy song — redirect your focus to your breathing.
Next week, in part four, I will share some more exercises with you, and I will also give some advice specifically to those of you who work in healthcare or are a home caregiver.
Note: Specifically, with regards to medical issues, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on the Web site.
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