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Your Mindfulness Superpower

Pathways to Resilience

“I learned I needed to slow down and ground myself rather than rush to meet deadlines and expectations.”

On the journey to tapping into our resilience, many of us first have to acknowledge and hold space for the stress and trauma that has impacted us. Trauma is defined as any event that leaves us feeling like our physical and/or psychological safety is threatened. There is a spectrum of reactions to events and circumstances that can range from tolerable stress, like having a flat tire, to toxic stress, which can be prolonged, such as living in a home where there is violence. The interesting thing about our brains is that they respond to these circumstances in similar ways. In fact, they react whether the circumstance is happening directly to us or we are witnessing it (think of those teary eyes during a movie). When our brains detect threats they tell our body to release stress hormones that flip the switch, turning on our fight, flight, or freeze responses. So what makes the difference between trauma having long-term negative impacts on our physical and mental health and our ability to have the resilience to avoid these negative outcomes? It comes down to the access we have to internal and external resources that promote a sense of safety, stability, and connection. How do we build up these resources? Let’s start with some that have proven to help our brains shift out of a traumatized or stressed state… They include staying hydrated, a nutrient rich diet, sleep, connection to others, and mindfulness. These can be our superpowers.

Finding Your Mindfulness Super Power

Mindfulness is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Professor and trauma researcher, Dr. Lynn Waelde of Palo Alto University, says that mindfulness is a birthright that we often get disconnected from due to stress, trauma, and messages from our families and/or society that shift us away from being present and self-acceptance. Infants have adapted to block out sounds in the environment to ensure that they get enough, they cry when they need to be fed, and fuss or disengage when they are overwhelmed. These natural skills help babies to stay present and regulated. In many societies, as we grow up, the structures within which we live tend to set us up to keep up with a constant grind, become easily distracted by all of the pings and alerts from our devices, and look outside of ourselves for acceptance and approval. Thinking of mindfulness as a birthright means that we all have the natural, internal capacity to reconnect to and develop our ability to be present and regulated – our mindfulness skills.

So how do you start? Take a deep breath. Try that again a little slower. Are your hands feeling warm or cold right now? Are your shoulders relaxed? Just notice. Take another breath. There you go. You just had a moment of mindfulness. A moment to intentionally fill your mind with what is in the present moment and release it from thoughts about the past or future that pull us out of “right now.”

There are many ways to practice mindfulness. Meditation, movement such as yoga or dancing, music or sound healing, or even just stopping and counting the number of windows or trees we see at any moment. Trying different ways to be mindful, and noting which ones feel most natural to you, is a great way to begin. It is worth it! Mindfulness is a resiliency builder and you don’t need any resource other than yourself to access it. I know that it has made a tremendous difference in my well-being and my productivity. I learned I needed to slow down and ground myself rather than rush to meet deadlines and expectations. Prioritizing meditation, spontaneous freeze dance parties, a daily gratitude list, and staying hydrated have proven to be superpowers for me. Make a commitment to yourself to go find yours.

Melissa Santos is a Sr. Director at Community Solutions, a behavioral health organization serving Santa Clara County. Her Pathways to Resilience podcast institute bringing learnings and conversations about trauma, wellness and resilience to the community. Listen in on Apple, Google, and Spotify, and learn more on our website: www.CommunitySolutions.org


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