Caught in Flight or Fight, Unable to Concentrate or Focus?

 Mindfully Meditate, then Write

Thanks to Coronavirus, our reptilian brains are scanning for danger and sensing it everywhere. The resultant, almost constant flight-or-fight responses likely cause muscle tension, headaches, upset stomachs, racing heartbeats, shallow breathing, and difficulty concentrating long enough to read, let alone write.

We need to counteract anxiety by relaxing, but bingewatching and overeating won’t get those words flowing. If you want to focus long enough to write, you’ll have to do two things: reduce all news exposure and quiet your mind. Mindfully meditating for a mere ten minutes a day will truly help you achieve a deep state of relaxation, relieve your troublesome symptoms, and regain your ability to focus on your writing. It’s simple, free, and rocks when it comes to reducing fear, improving brain function, fostering stress resilience, and becoming a more productive and ingenious writer. *

For novices, mindful meditation simply means sitting still, breathing slowly and deeply, and clearing your mind of all thoughts.

How it works:

  • Labeling your emotions with words activates your left PFC, which calms your amygdala and reduces anxiety.
  • Engaging your concentration alters the connection between your thinking (cortex) and the emotional (amygdala) parts of your brain, strengthening your neuronal pathways and thus allowing for more voluntary recognition and control of emotions.
  • Activating your cortical networks near your cingulate cortex (increases empathy and self-awareness), the insula (focuses on internal body states), and the somatosensory cortex (senses your body in space), making the focus on youand how you are feeling – allowing your own happiness and calm to be the mainstay.
  • Engaging in self-observation and awareness activates the middle PFC (center of metacognition, “thinking about thinking” or evaluating one’s own reasoning).

Mind, body, soul, and brain benefits include:

  • Physiological: lowers blood pressure, increases blood flow, reduces headaches, reduces carbon dioxide that causes acidosis and reduction of brain cells, increases serotonin, decreases cortisol.
  • Mental or spiritual: balances your state of mind, increases creativity, increases sense of peace, increases awareness, bolsters positive thinking, elevates your consciousness, builds confidence and wisdom.
  • Psychological: improves empathy and compassion; decreases insomnia, phobias, anxiety, and eating disorders.
  • Brain: increases grey matter in the insula, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex (improves psychological health, attention, compassion, empathy); increases left prefrontal cortex activity (lifts mood); reduces cortical thinning; increases power and reach of gamma waves (more neurons fire together and form new synapses).

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Create a Space. To calm and center your mind, find a quiet nook in your house, having relative peace and quiet will allow you to focus on the meditation with the least amount of distraction.
  2. Sit Erectly. Buddhists believe that energy flows best when your body is sitting erectly. Balance on a somewhat firm pillow with your hips neither thrust forward, nor leaning back, and your legs crossed. Or sit straight on a chair, feet flat on the floor. Place hands palm upward, on your thighs. Some like to touch their index fingers and thumbs together.
  3. Inhabit Your Body. Visualize that you have a string running from the base of your spine that you are using to slowly pull each vertebra upwards into alignment. When you reach your crown (the top of your skull), your shoulders and hips should both be level on the pillow or cushion, and you should feel fully present in your body. Ideally, you will feel relaxed, but alert. Sleepiness is not the goal.
  4. Minimize Distractions. If you use music, keep it soft and soothing. Keep your eyes open, but softened and facing down, focusing no farther than a couple of inches in front of your nose. This helps you achieve the desired mind containment. If you have trouble minimizing your focus, try laying a small object on the ground in front of you and use it to refocus whenever your mind wanders.
  5. Breathe. Controlling your breath is also very helpful in slowing your body down and focusing your mind. Begin by focusing solely on your breath, neither forcing nor exaggerating breaths, just noticing as each breath enters and exits your body. As you breathe in and out normally, consciously use the motion of the breaths to relax your body and your mind. If you’re a shallow breather, who rarely breathes from his or her diaphragm (stomach), ease your way into taking slower and deeper breaths. Placing a hand on your bellybutton, so you can feel your belly rise and fall as you breathe in and out, will help you learn to breathe deeper.
  6. Corral Your Thoughts. The focus is on how your mind works and mastering the ability to focus upon and control thoughts by first learning how to clear your mind of thoughts and focus solely on being fully present and conscious in your body. When your thoughts wander or emotions rise up—and they will, galloping about like wild horses—take notice of where they’ve gone, mentally label them (“distraction,” “fodder for later thought,” “the usual fear,” etc.) and then bring your mind back to the present, to the meditation. Focusing on your breath is a good way to bring your mind back to the process. While it may feel as if you are wasting time by keeping your mind clear of thoughts, in fact, your mind is learning a new way to slow down, relax, and perceive and process information. You are effectively training your mind to eradicate extraneous distraction and focus clearly on one thought at a time. Keep clearing your mind for 10-20 minutes.
  7. Cool Down. Once you have meditated for 10-20 minutes, slowly bring your awareness back to the room. A few deep, cleansing breaths is a great way to notify your body and mind that you’re transitioning from focused meditation to living in your normal world.

You are training your mind to simply be. And in doing so, you are training your brain to dismiss distractions, avert negative thoughts, ignore past history, and listen to internal cues.

All of these skills will vastly improve your writing sessions. I promise!

 Time to Mindfully Write . . .

 Resources:

 Mindfulness Awareness Research Center (MARC) at UCLA offers a selection of audio files you can listen to or download. http://marc.ucla.edu.  Right now, they’ve got a Co-vid section: https://www.uclahealth.org/marc/covid19-mindfulness

Sounds True.Com: Audio cds and digital downloads on everything from Qi Gong to Taoist to Kabbalah meditations; Tibetan, Buddhist, Vipassana, and Zen practices; and guided meditations from teachers such as Pema Chödrön, Jack Kornfeld, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and many others on http://soundstrue.com. Free daily download: https://www.soundstrue.com/collections/best-sellers/products/mindfulness-daily

*Sevinc G, Hölzel BK, Greenberg J, Gard T, Brunsch V, Hashmi JA, Vangel M, Orr SP, Milad MR, Lazar SW. Strengthened Hippocampal Circuits Underlie Enhanced Retrieval of Extinguished Fear Memories Following Mindfulness Training. Biological Psychiatry [Internet]. 2019.

Train Your Brain to Get Happy, Susan Reynolds, Simon & Schuster, 2011

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