My inquiry question is: How can mindfulness help us identify and manage our emotions?
Round 2 research: How can it impact our lives? How can mindfulness help identify and manage our emotions?
Mindfulness can impact our lives in many aspects. As discussed in the previous post, it can help us improve our well-being, physical health, and mental health. It can also, more specifically, help us increase our cognitive flexibility, our focus, and possibly decrease cognitive decline from aging or Alzheimers.
Aside from these impacts on our lives, mindfulness can also help identify and manage our emotions.
By practicing mindfulness, we teach our minds to, rather than being helplessly stuck in emotional states, “get off the ride” and observe the emotion unfold without attempting to alter it. (2)
A mindfulness practice, known as RAIN, can help us recognize our emotions so we can respond to challenging situations. When a negative feeling comes up, we can follow the four steps cued by the four letters, and begin to pay attention in a new way. (3)
R – recognize: In order to deal with an emotion, we must first acknowledge that we are experiencing it. We never want to push away or ignore the discomfort we are feeling; instead, we can look more closely.
A – acknowledge: This step is an extension of the first – we accept the feeling and allow it to be there. It is important to understand that we don’t have the power to reject emotions that we are already feeling. We can imagine the emotions as a visitor at the door. These thoughts don’t live with you; you can welcome them, acknowledge them, and let them go. We don’t have to treat our negative emotions like an enemy, nor try to dismiss them as “bad” or “wrong.”
I – Investigate: Now, we can explore our emotions with an open mind; try to find out how feelings appear in our bodies, and what they contain. Anger, for example, often includes sadness, helplessness, and fear. When we examine emotions this way, the uncomfortable portion becomes less opaque and solid; we begin to gain insight, rather than labeling the discomfort.
N – non-identify: Finally, we can consciously avoid being identified with a particular emotion. Rather than labeling ourselves with judgments, like “I am an angry person,” it is important to understand that we are just feeling angry due to a particular reason.
Many research projects have also shown that mindfulness helps with emotion regulation and maturity.
Mindfulness helps to calm us down. According to research, when mindfulness is practiced by meditative breathing, it helps slow down the heart rate and “underscore feelings of safety.” When we are calm, we are able to think clearer, and in this matter, not be as subject to emotional impulses. (4)
Mindfulness also helps us develop skills like attentional control and self-awareness, which all relate to emotional maturity and self-regulation. (4)
Often our approach to negative emotions is to do things that make us feel happier. Mindfulness works the opposite way. It increases our ability to bear discomfort both physically and emotionally. When we have a stronger ability to bear with emotional discomfort, we are less likely to let our emotions control us. (4)
Exposure to meditation sessions involving mindfulness also appeared to help the brain recover more quickly from negative emotions. Researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) have found neural evidence that mindfulness can help control negative feelings. In this experiment, a group of 68 native English-speaking females took part in one of the two 18-minute activities. Some listened to a guided meditation, and the others listened to a language-learning presentation. Immediately after the meditation, the people were shown disturbing pictures, for example, a bloody corpse. Results showed that the brain was able to control negative emotions to the same extent regardless of the high or low levels of natural mindfulness. (1)