Ready for a biology lesson?
Bear with me--it is worth it! :)
We have an area of our brain called the amygdala that is our center of reactivity to anxiety and stress—it is our fight, flight, freeze center. It is there to keep us on high alert and initiates a cascade of hormones and neurotransmitters that affect a whole host of systems. It increases our heart rate, dilates our pupils, it increases our breathing rate, it increases blood flow to major muscle groups (ie, creates muscle tension).
It is adaptive in that it “primes” the body for action and helps keep us alive.
It is not adaptive because it goes online whether we want it to or not, and we have to take deliberate and intentional steps in order for our bodies to counteract the effects of those cascade effects.
Research has shown that mindfulness interventions that initiate the relaxation response—reduce heart rate, reduce breathing rate, etc—including meditation is an excellent and easily accessable option for folks who need to regulate their amygdalas.
When we utilize mindfulness strategies, several parts of the brain take over—our emotion-regulatory centers, such as the hippocampus, helps us detach from the fight or flight and notice the emotional response.
Our prefrontal cortex, that lovely place in our brains that creates consciousness, is also activated in meditation. That area of the brain is the center of decision-making and intentional actions, and when activated, we are in charge of our actions and aware of our behaviors.
~~When we recognize how our bodies react, we are more aware of how our brains are unconsciously running the show, and contributing to anxiety and stress. ~~When we recognize how our bodies react, we have a to attend to the beauty of this bodily system we are given, that it has amazing survival mechanisms that protect us at all costs. We can give thanks for that system, and have a sense of compassion for our stressed experience. ~~When we recognize how our bodies react, we have the opportunity to notice, breathe, and release. We can remind our brains that the perceived threat can be managed. We can do this through initiating relaxation techniques, deep diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, and reminding our body from the ground up that it is safe, secure, and at peace.
I hope that's helpful. Comment below reactions and questions!