Skip to 0 minutes and 11 secondsRICHARD CHAMBERS: Learning to recognise and manage the stress response is really important for improving our wellbeing and our performance. Mindfulness helps us to catch the stress response more quickly by noticing it in our breath or a body sensations or in our mind, and then to recognise it as a stress response. And once we've done that, we can start to notice what is it that's driving it? What's happening in our mind? What's our attention caught up in that's driving this response? And once we've done that, we can actually start to practise redirecting our attention back to the present. When we don't notice stress reactions, when they're unconscious, the amygdala is just firing and experiencing things as a threat.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsWe're releasing adrenaline and cortisol. The mind's becoming agitated, as a body and the mind prepare themselves for action. And so, when this happens outside of our awareness, it can cause wear and tear on the body, a whole range of different problems, but also makes it very hard to focus on the things that we need to be focused on. Instead, we get very busy trying to avoid things or attack them. But if we're attune to the breath, we can start to notice subtle changes. For instance, when we start to experience a stress reaction, the breath tends to either get held, we hold the breath, or it becomes a little bit shallower, often higher in the chest.
Skip to 1 minute and 34 secondsAnd if we can notice that, that change in our breathing, then we can recognise, OK, I'm having a stress response, and we can catch it very early. If we don't notice changes to our breathing, which often we don't, the amygdala continues firing and what happens next is tension enters the body. As the muscles starts to tense up and as that adrenaline and cortisol get released, we might start to notice tension in the body. And if we notice this, again, we can recognise that we're having a stress reaction. If we don't notice that, then we tend to become aware of the stress reaction when it becomes a full blown panic attack or some emotional reaction or extreme physical tension.
Skip to 2 minutes and 15 secondsAt the end of the day, where we've just got an aching neck, aching back, that kind of thing. But the important thing is, as soon as we become aware that we're having a stress reaction, we can immediately disconnect from it. First of all, checking what's our attention caught up in. I guarantee you, it won't be focused non-judgementally on what's in front of us. We're by definition going to be worrying about something that might be happening in the future, dwelling on something in the past, or judging, reacting to what's happening in the present, or caught up in self-criticism. And, having noticed this, we can simply redirect our attention back to the present.
Skip to 2 minutes and 54 secondsOf course, it's going to wander again, probably straight away, because this problem-solving mind of ours is going to want to keep worrying about the stressor. But we can start to notice that it's wandered and we can bring it back. Then it wanders off again and we notice, and we bring it back. And again. And, as we do this over and over again, we start to rest more in the present moment and calm down. And, of course, this process of noticing the attention wandering and bring it back over and over again is exactly what we're practicing in meditation. And this is why meditation is foundational to managing stress with mindfulness.
Skip to 3 minutes and 31 secondsWe actually practise the skill of engaging our attention in the present, noticing where it's wandered, bringing it back over and over again, without judgement, without elaboration. And so, if we practise doing that when we don't need it, we can use it much more effectively when we do. You wouldn't wait until you were drowning to learn how to swim. It would make sense to do some swimming lessons and then, later on, if the boat tends over, then we're fine. We're OK. We've practised for that. And meditation's exactly the same.
Mindful stress reduction
Watch Richard explore how mindfulness can be used to more effectively manage stress, and how being aware of breathing and body sensations can help detect the stress response early, before it has gathered momentum.
In the video, Richard also explores ways of using mindfulness to ‘come to our senses’, grounding ourselves back in the present, which gives us an effective tool for reducing stress.
Would you like to know more?
If you’d like to know more effectively managing stress, go to See also for a link to an interview in with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a popular mindfulness program for reducing stress and improving wellbeing.
© Monash University 2018. CRICOS No. 00008C