The key to a stress-free life by Lynn O’ Toole
While it is generally acknowledged that stress profoundly influences the way in which we think and behave, few people fully understand why this is so. Recent research shows that the reason for our changed thinking and behaviour under stress is that stress causes parts of the brain to “switch off”. Thus, we lose control over certain brain areas; the more we experience stress, the more we lose control over the brain. This is why stress is one of the major causes of information loss during training that will negatively impact upon performance and learning results.
What happens during overload is that the attributes of the right brain become inaccessible, it’s functioning shuts off and the left brain becomes more active. This leads to a loss of our intuitiveness, imagination and our ability to develop an allowance and receptivity of impressions, ideas and images that arise.
Whether the stress we experience is the result of major life changes or the cumulative effect of minor everyday hassles, it is how we respond to these experiences that determines the impact the stress will have on our lives and affect our professional and personal fulfillment. The ability to start recognising how our bodies react to the stressors in our lives can be a powerful skill. Most people are more aware of the weather, the time of day, or their bank balance than they are of the tension on their own bodies.
Today, as we approach the end of the information age and enter the era of “right-brain” dominance more and more people want to know how they can adopt this skill. The answer is simple; anyone who wants to thrive and survive in today’s advanced world needs to embrace their right-brain qualities and bridge back over to the holistic right brain; in other words turning off your left brain chatter and expanding right brain functions.
Dan Pink and his followers notably Jack Black (Mindstore) in the UK have shown that this can work to dramatic effect. They have formed simple concepts and techniques, suggest step-by-step approaches and techniques to help you do it and, importantly, they are easy to dip into and build from simple encouragement to take control of your brain and your life. They highlight how we are unconsciously identified with our minds and that we are not able to stop thinking which prevents us from finding a realm of inner stillness. As part of the healing process, we need to become intensely conscious of the present moment, for example in everyday life we can practice this by every time we walk up and down the stairs if we pay close attention to every step and every movement even our breathing we can practice staying totally present with our whole self.
The head of the Stress Reduction Programme at the University of Massachusetts says, “if exercise takes care of your body, meditation takes care of your mind’. We have all encountered moments of ‘mindlessness’ such as not knowing where we put our keys or worse, we get in the car and can’t remember where we are going, resulting in separation from self and a sense of living mechanically. However, with increased awareness we can use mindfulness-based stress reduction. The good news is that mindfulness is not something that you have to “get” or acquire it is already within you.
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Lynn O’ Toole is a Consultant at DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists