Building Resilience by Practicing Mindfulness

By Winnie Lee

Facing difficulties in life
What made us so anxious?
A lot of research studies in recent years have examined the relationship between the human brain and emotions and the results indicate a close relationship between them. When we are under threat or facing difficulties, the Amygdala of the brain will be activated and we will immediately react with emotions like feeling anxious or frightened, which then trigger us to take some actions to protect ourselves like running away or fighting back. Initially, this mechanism is meant to help us to survive. However, the Amygdala can over-react and send false alarm to our brain in some situations.

The development of Mindfulness in Mental Health
Recent studies by neuroscientists have suggested that out brain continues to make changes throughout our life and the ability to reorganize or rewiring is called neuroplasticity (Cayoun, 2014; Hölzel et. al., 2011; Tang et. al., 2015). Research studies also found that people practicing Mindfulness like sitting meditation regularly will lower the activities of the Amygdala (i.e. lower the intensity of emotional reactions) and increase the activities of the prefrontal lobe which helps us in rational thinking, problem-solving and decision making. This finding has tremendous consequences. It means that, by learning new skills and acquiring new experiences like Mindfulness, we can change old habits and improve our lives.

The application of Mindfulness into mental health was first introduced by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the Medical Centre and developed the 8 week Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) that was later offered in many other hospitals, clinics and health care centres. Research studies indicated the effectiveness of Mindfulness Training in helping people cope with stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other illnesses.

How can Mindfulness help to build resilience?
Very often, we are not living at the present moment, our thoughts can pull us to some things easily and we can’t concentrate on what we are doing, even daily activities like eating, walking, bathing etc. If our mind is habitually occupied by negative thoughts like rejecting someone or criticizing self, negative emotions and bodily reactions will arise such as feeling angry and tensing up the shoulders etc. Through practicing Mindfulness, we enhance our self-awareness and concentration. We learn to stay out of our habitual way of living and become more aware of our present moment of experiencing. We also see things in a clearer perspective and accept what things are. We approach unwanted experiences with a gentle curiosity and develop a different relationship to them. Most importantly, we learn to take good care of ourselves and approach difficulties and painful experience with compassion and kindness.