This leads me to my second reason why mindfulness can help you deal with stress: it helps you make better decisions.
When we’re assaulted with big situations where we need to carry the responsibilities of crises, or we need to just simply make a step in the right direction, mindfulness can clarify our thoughts. Instead of a jumbled mess, we can prioritize our values, we can integrate whole parts of ourselves and act in a way that is congruent with who we are.
Congressman Tim Ryan from Ohio understands this very well. As a policymaker, he understands good policy requires a sharp mind and a warm heart. And in his work, he actually leads mindfulness practices on Capitol Hill.
Now just take a second and imagine that for a moment: Republicans and Democrats in the same room together in mindfulness bliss. It’s a neat picture and so needed in our times.
Congressman Ryan uses mindfulness, and he spoke to Anderson Cooper about this in a 60 Minutes episode and said it has helped him prevent himself from burning out, that the stress and the pace of policy making is intense, and it’s given him the ability to reach across the aisle and extend a hand to people that he doesn’t agree with in order to craft good policy, anticipating how those policies will play out in the day-to-day lives of people it will affect.
You see, mindfulness allows us to be more compassionate, to, instead of react, be more empathetic; instead of be in conflict, be more collaborative; instead of be self-centered, we’re more self-aware. These are the gifts of mindfulness.
And mindfulness builds compassion for others, and as we anticipate the needs of others, our decisions are not as focused on reaction, but we’re able to anticipate how those decisions play out, how they help or hinder the healing process for society or organization or for relationships.
So do me a favor and do this exercise with me for just a few moments so you can experience what I’m talking about.
Close your eyes and take three deep breaths in with me. Take your first breath in and fill your lungs to capacity. Imagine that this air is very clean and good and pure, and allow it to nourish your body, and exhale.
Take your second deep breath in, and allow that breath to travel through those tight parts of your body, maybe your gut or your shoulders or your neck areas, where it’s often tight. And relax. And exhale.
And on your third breath, do the same and assign your breath a color of purity. Allow that breath, again, to travel to those tight places, soothe those sore spots, take in that relaxation. Exhale.
Continue to breathe in this way as I talk to you. There’s nothing you need to do right now except to breathe. There’s nothing that is asked of you. There’s no task to be completed, except for you to simply just sit and breathe.
You can put all the to-do lists away. You can let go of the worries of the day. Just sit and breathe.
Thank you. You can open your eyes. I hope what this exercise showed you is just a little taste of what a mindfulness exercise could do for you, especially as you confront conflict or big situations or organizational places where you need to make big decisions.
You can take a step back and breathe just for a moment and be present and be able to then re-nourish, rejuvenate yourself before you confront that situation or before you need to make that decision.
Because what happens in mindfulness, as you sit in awareness, is the truth of reality that starts to come to fruition, which is this: The past cannot be changed. The future cannot be forced.
All we have is the present moment. And in that present moment, we can make the best decisions we can in order to better the lives of others, but it takes some thought and it takes some congruence.
It takes our ability to connect with our values and the things that we hold dear.
So you hopefully have experienced that breath is a foundation of a mindfulness practice, which leads me to the third and final reason why mindfulness can extend and expand your ability to take on stress, especially as you help others, which is mindfulness fosters wellness.
And what I mean by wellness is this ability to cope with stressors in our lives and bounce back. In fact, mindfulness is a tool of self-care. When we give of ourselves to a cause or we provide skills and interventions that will make a change in healing, we need to rejuvenate and we need to refresh the wells.
Mindfulness allows us that space and time to refresh, to connect and to be able to access all different parts of ourselves. In a 2014 study by Shonin, Gordon and Griffiths, these researchers used a more religiously oriented mindfulness-based practice — it was more faithful to its Buddhist roots — and these researchers asked the participants how they felt after this six-week program.
One participant said that they felt “cradled in comfort.”
In a study I conducted last year, I asked Christian psychotherapists who used mindfulness-based therapies questions like: How did you feel using this mindfulness-based therapy with your client? What worked? What didn’t work?
But they responded in a very interesting way, and they said that they felt a presence of the divine with them in that room as they work with their clients.