How We Process Sadness

A basic tenet of Mindfulness is that we can become aware of and respond to intense emotion in different ways.  The way in which we attend to our thoughts & feelings when experiencing a life event shapes our reality – it is not what happens to us that makes us who we are, but rather how we respond vs react to our experiences.

According to @mindfulonline, a recent mindfulness-based intervention study showed that people who processed things from a wise-minded perspective (balance between left-brain logical mind & right-brain emotion mind) “showed marked reductions in activity in a region of the brain often linked to self-evaluation and analysis (the medial prefrontal cortex). They also showed increased activity in regions linked to direct, moment-by-moment sensory experiences (the lateral prefrontal cortex, especially the insula)”.

wise mind

What does all that mean?  Author Zindel Siegel proposes the following:

Mindfulness Changes How We Process Sadness

The fact that these two regions are tightly connected prior to practicing mindfulness suggests that it is usually very difficult for a person to focus on the moment without setting off thoughts about the self.  The “uncoupling” of these two parts of the brain that is associated with mindfulness suggests that the person is now able to maintain attention on body experience, without automatically activating “stories” about the self. Having actual data showing this phenomenon is hugely important, as it supports the notion of a fundamental neural dissociation between two distinct forms of self-awareness—narrative and experiential modes—that are habitually integrated but can be uncoupled through mindfulness training.

Siegel suggested the data from the study shows we can train ourselves to become less self-reflexive – that with regular practice we can learn to separate the experience from the story and subsequently be more present with difficult emotion without feeling as if we need to react to it.  The goal is to NOTICE what we are feeling (good, bad or indifferent) vs JUDGING the experience before we’ve even fully understood all that it means to us.

Slow things down when processing events.  It is important to honor how we feel, but remember feelings are not necessarily facts.  When we live more mindfully we learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and our ability to tolerate distress dramatically increases.

Pause.  Breathe.  Slow things down.  Notice vs judge.  Respond vs react.  Live mindfully & prosper!