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Mindfulness and the Mind’s Cycle of Stress

Posted by Dr. Alda Ngo



The Downward Spiral

Mindfulness is not a linear process. It’s not about getting anywhere or achieving a particular outcome. It’s a process, which some describe as a spiral. 

On autopilot, we tend to spiral downward into a self-perpetuating cycle of reactivity that goes something like this:

We encounter some event or stimulus, and it has a feeling tone: it’s either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral

If it’s neutral, the tendency is to dismiss or ignore it, but if it’s a strong feeling tone, it hijacks our attention and the mind fixates on it – giving rise to thoughts and emotions about it.

If it’s pleasant, the tendency is to try to hang on to it, while if it’s unpleasant, we tend to push it away or try to make it stop.

If we react un-skillfully, we may get temporary relief, but in the long term we develop maladaptive coping strategies and our resilience to discomfort dwindles. 

This self-perpetuating cycle can lead to chronic stress, depression and anxiety.

The Upwards Spiral

However, with Mindfulness, this downward spiral pattern can be disrupted. 

When we’re not in autopilot we can begin to spiral upward instead:

We encounter some event or stimulus and we are more awake, open and receptive to the internal and external experience of it.

As a result, we are more aware of strong feeling tones as they arise. With increased awareness, we are able to bring in attitudes of mindfulness (like a beginner’s mind, patience, kindness, etc.) which help prevent us from being hi-jacked.

There is room for choice as to where and how to place our attention and we understand that we are not our experiences.

This understanding creates space to observe experience objectively and to make choices about how to respond with more intention and skillfulness. 

Facebook Live Event

Tune in to our Facebook Page on Monday, Sept 14th at 7pm MT

Join Dr. Alda Ngo, Registered Doctor of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncturist and Mindfulness Instructor to explore how to stop the downward spiral of the mind’s self-perpetuating cycle of stress.

photo: Angela Glajcar

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