Your brain on mindfulness: Part 1

Practicing mindfulness can change your brain and your life.

Photo credit: National Institute of Mental Health
Photo credit: National Institute of Mental Health

The number of adults reporting extreme levels of stress in their lives continues to increase, according to the American Psychological Association. Unfortunately, no person can completely avoid stressful events appearing in their life, but how they respond will determine the level of impact it has on their life. Stress pays no attention to one’s gender, age, race, geographic location or any other factor. Everybody experiences stress. With many advancements in studying the brain, research shows us how stress effects the brain, and what we can do to combat the negative effects. With a clear understanding of what stress does to our brain, we can tackle these negative impacts with focus and determination.

The brain can be an intimidating area of study, but the more we know about our brain the better we can manage what is happening to it. Psychologist and research scientist, Dr. B. Grace Bullock, highlights two important areas of the brain and how they relate to stress in this live presentation (Bullock’s contribution begins at 9:50):

  1. Hippocampus - This is in the middle of the brain and is responsible for several key functions in learning, memory, and emotion regulation. When you are stressed you may notice your behavior changes; you can thank your hippocampus for that.
  2. Pre-frontal cortex - This is in the front of the brain and is sometimes called the “executive control center of the brain.” This structure helps you stay calm, listen, plan, reason, and understand what is happening around you. Stress causes this structure to shrink.  

Fortunately, practicing mindfulness can strengthen both the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex, allowing the opportunity to literally change our brain and how we respond to stressful events. Michigan State University Extension recognizes the importance of practicing mindfulness and offers research-based programming to help individuals and communities learn this way of viewing the world.

There are many methods for practicing mindfulness in your daily life. To learn more, find a local MSU Extension “Stress Less with Mindfulness” program near you. More to come in the second part of this two-part series.

Your brain on mindfulness: Part 2

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