Embracing mindfulness to combat life’s stressors and optimize cognitive performance

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Understanding the neuroscience and physiological basis of the brain and training its networks to cope with anxiety and life stress

Professor Andrea Smith, School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, combines her research and her personal experience with mindfulness to teach the course. The Neuroscience of Mindfulness: From Neurons to Wellness. His interest in neuroscience explores how to optimize the cognitive processes behind decision-making, organizing behavior, setting goals, and taking the necessary steps to accomplish them without distraction. Mindfulness has allowed her students to acquire these skills to avoid stress.

Professor Smith recently published Who Knows What! Neuroscience and mindfulness take stress in the real world and win! documenting her work, and we asked her about her embrace of mindfulness and how it has affected her students.

Question: What inspired you to explore using mindfulness to attack the stress you saw in your students?

Andra Smith: “During Covid, I didn’t have the usual contact with the students and noticed that they were struggling with high stress levels and anxiety was affecting their performance. I wanted to give them tools to deal with some of that stress and their future fears. “I used my own mindfulness. Gained so much from the training that I knew they would benefit from learning why and how it works.”

Question: Scientifically speaking, what kind of research have you led to find evidence behind the effectiveness of mindfulness?

AS: “I conducted two fMRI studies with mindfulness as an intervention, breast cancer patients with neuropathic pain and musicians suffering from performance anxiety. In both studies, we found significant changes in brain structure and function. Currently, we are working on an imaging study of pediatric concussions, and we hypothesize that mindfulness may help with emotion regulation and quality of life issues after injury.”

Question: Mindfulness brings skepticism to many; How did you see it as you went forward using it?

AS: “It required understanding the brain and how mindfulness works from a neuroscience lens. It wasn’t until I learned why and how mindfulness works in the brain: the stress response; the evolution of our brains; attentional networks; neural systems and their interactions; how stress hijacks our prefrontal cortex. And how to deal with it. Those were the academic and scientific aspects, but personal life experiences also solidified my passion for mindfulness training. I used my mindfulness training during my mother’s illness and final passing. Despite how sad it was, it was a lightbulb moment. That combines science and experience, confirming its power. I wanted to give it to my students. They embraced it, used it, and loved how it changed their day-to-day lives.”

Question: How did your students respond and what was ultimately achieved by introducing mindfulness into their curriculum/routine?

AS: “I gave mindfulness exercises at the beginning and end of class and suggested homework exercises. They did the homework and enjoyed it! An exercise was a mindful conversation, to listen, not to respond. It was eye-opening for the students because they understood. That they won’t listen in on a conversation without thinking what their answer will be. It’s a gift to give someone your full attention, and they experienced that through this exercise and later appreciated their relationships more. The course was about students having tools to deal with stress and learned that stress didn’t have to control them; they could be in the driver’s seat and it made them more productive. Nothing is better than hearing that for a professor. A student says they implemented what they learned in class and it enriched their lives. did.”

Question: How do you recommend people take the first step toward engaging in mindfulness practices for their benefit?

AS: “Slowly incorporating several short practices that feel good is a good way to start. Mindfulness is a variety of practices so you can pick and choose what you like. It’s about paying attention and training the networks in the brain that allow us to be. Beyond the pre-lived and re-lived narratives we often run into. My book takes the reader through the whole course so it’s a great place to start. I’d be happy to help anyone who wants to try. “It. I would add that I do not recommend learning on your own if you are traumatized or suffer from significant mental health issues. It is not a replacement for treatment or therapy. It’s a supplement.”

“Being aware of how stress affects our physiology can give us a jump start on dealing with its potential negative effects. If we can keep in tune with our physiology, it gives us all sorts of information and signals that are within our control. Knowledge is ” strength We need to know our brain, because it controls everything about us, good and bad. Mindfulness can help us with that.”

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