Time In – The Healthy Mind Platter (5/8)

Daily Life, Neuroscience, Theoretics

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Time-in – Reflection, attunement, mindfulness

Various studies cited by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the report “stress at Work” indicate that between 26% and 40% of all workers today feel stressed of burnt out by work. Roughly 60% of doctor visits stem from stress- related complaints and illnesses. Confronted with pressure or stress, the brain strives to reestablish and maintain homeostasis through the coordinated activation and control of neuroendocrine and autonomic stress systems. Stress responses are mediated by largely overlapping circuits in the limbic forebrain – the hypothalamus and the brainstem – so that the respective contributions of the neuroendocrine and autonomic systems are tuned in accordance with stressor modality and intensity. Sabine Sonnentag and her colleagues have extensively studied the dynamic of recovery experiences and distinguish between psychological detachment from work (i.e. not thinking about job-related issues or problems), relaxation (a process characterized by decreased sympathetic activation), and mastery experiences (challenging off-job experiences that provide opportunities for learning and success). Their research showed that low psychological detachment from work during the evening predicted negative activation and fatigue, whereas mastery experiences during the evening predicted positive activation while relaxation predicted serenity. sleep quality showed positive relations with all affective states. in our Healthy Mind Platter we refer to mastery experiences under “focus time” and to “psychological detachment” under “down time.” in this section we focus on reflection, relaxation, and mindfulness.

In his classic work The Relaxation Response Herbert Benson explored the importance and practice of relaxation to a broad business audience. Relaxation is a process characterized by decreased sympathetic activation and becomes evident in a decrease in heart rate and muscle tension. There are many relaxation techniques including progressive muscle relaxation and various forms of meditation. Yet, there are also many “everyday activities” that can result in responses similar to relaxation, such as a walk in nature or listening to music. There is now a wide body of research showing the beneficial effects of relaxation like the reduction of tension, and the increase of positive affective states.

Yet when we talk about “time-in” in the Healthy Mind Platter we refer to much more than relaxation. Relaxation is actually only one of the aspects or benefits of the broader practice of meditation – a way of training the mind – defined as an intentional self-regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now. There are many forms of meditation. Descriptions of meditation vary and are often expressed in behavioral terms and include (1) relaxation, (2) concentration, (3) altered state of awareness, (4) suspension of logical thought processes, and (5) maintenance of a self-observing attitude. One particular type of meditation that has been scrutinized by neuroscientists in increasing ways recently is mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. Bishop propose an operational definition distinguishing two components: (1) self-regulation of attention focused on immediate experience and (2) orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.

“Mindfulness has been described as
“paying attention in a particular way: on purpose,
in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”

Rather than changing the environment or the appraisal of the situation, mindfulness aims at becoming aware and accepting thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. According to Creswell, Way, eisenberger, and Lieberman part of the positive effect of mindfulness may be due to labeling affect. Mindfulness in trained individuals has been associated with increased engagement of a right lateralized network, comprising the lateral PFC and viscera-somatic areas such as the insula, secondary somatosensory cortex and inferior parietal lobule. According to Chiesa and Serretti, mindfulness meditation activates the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Long-term meditation practice is associated with an enhancement of cerebral areas related to attention and emotion regulation. Meta-analytic studies of the impact of mindfulness-based stress reduction seem to suggest that these programs may help a broad range of individuals to cope with their clinical and nonclinical problems, ranging from pain, cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and stress. A meta-analysis of the effect of mindfulness- based therapy (MBT) on anxiety and depression concluded that MBT improves symptoms of anxiety and depression across a relatively wide range of severity and even when these symptoms are associated with other disorders, such as medical problems.

To conclude, “time-in” is characterized by a very particular type of conscious, focused attention on the inner life of the self in the here and now. Time-in focuses attention on one’s intentions and highlights awareness of awareness itself – the two fundamental elements of being mindful. Time-in develops the capacity to be present with experience. Presence, in turn, has been found to be associated with improvements in a number of processes including the levels of the enzyme telomerase, which maintains the telomere caps at the ends of chromosomes within the nucleus of our cells. Time-in focuses on acceptance of process rather than content, and can be generally seen to be related to a range of benefits if practiced on a regular basis: in addition to being a wakeful hypometabolic physiological state, it has physiological (e.g. balance of parasympathetic and sympathetic function, health), cognitive (e.g. attention, flexible perspective), emotional (e.g. self-control, stress management), and social (e.g. compassion and empathy) benefits. Regular time-in can therefore be counted among the seven vital activities on the Mental Health Platter.

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Source: NeuroLeadership Institute.

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