From stressed to relaxed: The power of Mindfulness

Our facilitator Chantal Hofstee, shares some great insights on how to utilise mindfulness to ease the stress of the season. Learn more about Chantal Hofstee’s Mindfulness in Business course: http://www.brightstar.co.nz/training/mindfulness-business

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Your brain is your most complex body part and science still does not fully understand how it works. Your perceptions, thoughts and emotions are equally complex. They are constantly changing and interacting and consist of many different layers. Some are part of your conscious mind while others are part of your subconscious mind.

At any given moment, if you peel away all the different layers of thought and emotion, all the way down to the bottom of our subconscious mind there are only two options: you either feel safe or unsafe. All of your thoughts, feelings and actions in that moment, will come from either the safe or unsafe brain state.

The red brain: a state of stress

There are various levels of safe or unsafe – you can see this as a spectrum with extremely safe at one end of the spectrum and extremely unsafe at the other end. Where you are on the spectrum depends on the situation, your personality, core beliefs and current thoughts. The unsafe brain, also called the red brain, can be triggered when there is no actual physical threat. Your brain reacts to how safe or unsafe you perceive a situation to be. Your thoughts are the most important factor in determining how your brain assesses a situation. For example: if you fear public speaking and would say to yourself ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘this will be a disaster’ your brain perceives the situation as unsafe and the stress response is activated.

The red brain state triggers the stress response also known as the ‘fight or flight response’. When this happens your brain and body are in the best possible state to deal with a threat – hence ensuring the best chance of survival. In this state the hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released, creating the following effects:

Physical effects

  • Tunnel vision
  • Stopped or slowed digestion
  • Increased blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Increased heart rate
  • Suppressed immune system
  • Tensed muscles

Psychological effects

  • Judgmental thinking (black and white)
  • Suppressing emotions
  • Narrow/ fixed point view
  • Unkind manner
  • Stressed
  • Disconnection from others

Having the option of the fight or flight modus available is essential for you to be able to cope with extreme situations. However, spending too much time in this state of stress does damage to both your brain and your body.  You risk negative physical consequences such as high blood pressure and heart failure and of psychological problems like burn out, anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. If you want to live a healthy and balanced live the stress state does not have to be eliminated but should be reserved for emergencies only.

The green brain: a state of calm

The safe brain state is also referred to as the green brain state; or as I like to call it ‘calm and present’. In this brain state the stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin are reduced and the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin is released stimulating the following responses:

Physical effects:

  • Wide vision and flexible attention
  • Optimal digestion
  • Reduced blood pressure and blood sugar
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Active immune system
  • Relaxed muscles

Psychological effects:

  • Non judgmental thinking
  • Processing emotions
  • Seeing the bigger picture
  • Kind
  • Calm
  • Connecting with others

The green brain is the state in which relaxation and processing of events and emotions happen. When the brain feels safe, the guards come down and all the resources in your brain become available to you. Creativity and flexibility are unlocked and you can see the bigger picture. It is in this brain state that you can make good decisions and be truly effective and productive. On top of that, the release of oxytocin immediately increases compassion, empathy and the desire to connect with others. This hormone is the fuel for our relationships and essential for wellbeing.

shutterstock_148116878The power of worries

Worries and judgments are perceived threats because they communicate to your brain that something is not right. Underneath all the rational thinking the brain understands this as ‘something is not safe’ and the stress state is activated.

For example; if you worry about your finances you may have the thought ‘I don’t have enough money’. Your brain sees this thought as a signal for a potential threat and the red brain state is activated. Your thoughts keep coming back to the perceived lack of money (fixed point view) and you loose sight of the bigger picture of your financial situation. You cannot come up with creative solutions or prioritize. On a physical level you might loose your appetite (slowed down digestion), your breathing becomes shallow and your heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar go up. Your brain and body are getting ready for fight or flight even though there is no physical threat to run from. Your worries about money have then activated the stress state, making you much less able to effectively deal with any issues you might have!

The power of Mindfulness

Mindfulness practice activates the green brain through kind and non judgmental thoughts which signal to the brain that the situation is safe. By focusing on the here and now you are taking the focus away from worries about the past or the future that could trigger the stress state. By having a mindful attitude towards what is in the here and now, you are further reducing the stress state and activating your optimal brainstate.

With mindful attention and attitude in place you are activating the safe brain more and more. This will not only make you healthier but also happier and more successful.

“In this life you’ll find some trouble, if you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy” Bobby McFerrin

Written by Chantal Hofstee, Clinical Psychologist

Chantal is a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in practical Mindfulness training. She is registered with the New Zealand Psychologists Board and has worked in the private and corporate field in both the Netherlands and New Zealand as well as for the New Zealand government.

Delegate Blog: My Mindfulness course experience written by Jane Smathers, Team Leader, IRD

Why did you select this particular course?

I have a particularly challenging work and home environment – I wanted to do something that could potentially help me manage stress better both at work AND at home. I read the description about the mindfulness course and thought that this was a good opportunity for me to focus on my own personal development for once.

What aspects of the material covered did you enjoy/take home from the course?
I enjoyed all aspects of the course, but found that some aspects really resonated with me. I always considered myself to be an extremely self-aware person, however the concept of ‘being non-judgemental’ with our thoughts was a real eye-opener to me. I have been practicing gratitude daily since the course and have already seen the benefits, not only with my interactions with my colleagues at work, but with my partner and children. Living in the ‘now’ rather than waiting for the next thing to make me ‘happy’ has become my way of life and overall, I am feeling extremely positive.

How was your facilitator?
Chantel was brilliant – she personified ‘mindfulness’ and the benefits that it can bring. Her calm way of delivering the material gave me confidence that it works. It made me want to implement the exercises into my life, so I could have some of that same overall Happy and calm demeanour.

How did you find the networking experience with other participants?
For me it was useful, mainly to meet other professionals who experience similar stressors. Generally getting outside ones comfort zone with a small group of people in a training environment can be uncomfortable. But because of the nature of the course, we all had something in common.

How have you continued to use the skills learnt in your day to day role?
I am still ‘Busy’, this is not going to change – but one of the biggest changes in me as a result of trying to practice Mindfulness and incorporate it in my day to day life, is that I talk less. I listen more and when I do speak it is more measured and less judgemental. This assists me to be a better people leader. Especially because I also work with new and emerging people leaders to develop their leadership competencies.
I am making a conscious effort to be grateful for what I have and I show that to the people I love every day. It is currently still a challenge, however I can already tell that my ‘default responses’ and old ways of reacting to situations are starting to change. I look forward to continuing to create the new and improved version of myself
J

What professional development topics do you hope to explore in the future?
I want to continue to grow and learn about Mindfulness and related topics. If I have the opportunity to attend future courses, I would be looking to grow and develop skill that I have already learned.

 

5 Minutes with Chantal – Mindfulness in action

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Chantal Hofstee, registered Clinical Psychologist

Researching new management trends we came across Chantal Hofstee’s work and we immediately realised the power of her message.

Now that her Mindfulness in Business  course is part of Bright*Star training calendar, it’s time to have a chat with Chantal and find out more about mindfulness and its importance in modern business world.

Chantal, why would businesses like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Google and Apple be interested in Mindfulness?

“The answer is simple. Mindfulness retrains your brain to stress less and achieve more. We all know that stress is unhealthy and causes problems. Stress related issues such as health issues, reduced productivity and negative office dynamics are not only costly, they are also very common problems for most businesses.”

How does mindfulness work in practice?

“A fast body of research now shows that Mindfulness practice is one of the best ways to combat stress. Mindfulness practice is easy, healthy and after some initial training it is free of costs.

Research shows that Mindfulness practices increases your health and happiness. But there is more, Mindfulness practice does not only make you healthier and happier, it also makes you more creative, innovative, flexible, efficient and productive.

It improves problem solving skills, social connection and self esteem. All of these are essential factors when it comes to optimising work performance and achieving great outcomes.”

What are the benefits of mindfulness training?

“The Mindfulness in business training has two main benefits:

1.  It will make you enjoy your work and every day life more

2. It will teach you simple, effective techniques that allow you to manage stress better and therefore increase you productivity, efficiency, innovation and (work) relationships.”

Do you want to know about Mindfulness? Join Chantal’s training course Mindfulness in Business  today!