08 Feb We all spend too much time worrying, so try this calming trick
via Fast Company by James Carmody
A new year brings both hopes and anxieties. We want things to be better for ourselves and the people we love but worry that they won’t be, and imagine some of the things that might stand in the way. More broadly, we might worry about who’s going to win the election, or even if our world will survive.
As it turns out, humans are wired to worry. Our brains are continually imagining futures that will meet our needs and things that could stand in the way of them. And sometimes, any of those needs may be in conflict with each other.
Worry is when that vital planning gets the better of us and occupies our attention to no good effect. From tension and sleepless nights to preoccupation and distraction around those very people we care for, worry’s effects are endless. There are ways to tame it, however.
As a professor of medicine and population and quantitative health sciences, I’ve researched and taught mind-body principles to both physicians and patients. I’ve found that there are many methods of quieting the mind and that most of them draw on just a few straightforward principles. Understanding those can help in creatively practicing the techniques in your everyday life.
OUR BRAINS SABOTAGE THE HAPPIER PRESENT MOMENT
We’ve all experienced moments of flow, times when our attention is just effortlessly absorbed in what we are doing. And studies carried out in real-time confirm an increase in happiness when people can focus attention on what they are doing, rather than when their minds are wandering. It may seem odd then that we leave our minds to wander for something like half the day, despite the happiness cost.
The reason can be found in the activity of linked brain regions, such as the default mode network that becomes active when our attention is not occupied with a task. These systems function in the background of consciousness, envisaging futures compatible with our needs and desires and planning how those might be brought about.
Human brains have evolved to do this automatically; planning for scarcity and other threats is important to ensure survival. But there’s a downside: anxiety. Studies have shown that some people prefer electric shocks to being left alone with their thoughts. Sound familiar?
Our background thinking is essential to operating in the world. It is sometimes the origin of our most creative images. We suffer from its unease when unnoticed, it takes over the mental store.
Mindfulness, the practice of observing our mind’s activity, affords both real-time insight into this default feature of the mental operating system and a capacity to self-regulate it.
That is confirmed by studies showing increased attention regulation, working memory, and awareness of mind wandering that develop after only a couple of weeks of mindfulness training. Imaging studies, similarly, show that this kind of training reduces default mode activity and enriches neural connections that facilitate attentional and emotional self-regulation.
EVOLUTION PRIORITIZES SURVIVAL OVER HAPPINESS
This default to planning is part of our evolutionary history. Its value is evident in the effortless persistence and universality with which it occurs. Mind-body programs like yoga and mindfulness are indicative of the yearning many people have to be in the happier present moment.
How we use our attention is central to our emotional well-being, and many mind-body programs are based on training our minds to be more skillful in this way.
Mindfulness training, for example, asks students to direct their attention to the sensations of breathing. And while that may seem easy, the mind resists, tenaciously. So, despite repeated resolve, a person finds that, within seconds, attention has effortlessly defaulted to planning daydreams.
… keep reading the full & original article HERE