Our brains are worrying about the past or stressing about the future most of the time. They were developed this way from our ancestors, and this used to serve us well to protect us from danger, or to prepare us for action from harm. In the lecture The Science of Mindfulness Ronald Siegel explains why. "Imagine our ancestor Lucy was looking at some bushes, and spied a beige shape. She could have made two possible mistakes. The first mistake would be to think, 'I think it’s a lion, when it’s actually a beige rock.' The second mistake would be to think, 'Eh, it’s probably a beige rock when it was really a lion.' The cost of the first mistake is needless anxiety. The cost of the second mistake is death. So, we evolved to make the first mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once. The ancestors that did focus on the moment by enjoying a luscious piece of fruit, or the campfire, statistically, were not our ancestors because they died before reproducing. Our ancestors were the ones that spent each day remembering every bad thing that had happened, and spent much of their lives anticipating more trouble in the future. This is the mind they bequeathed to us." Therefore, our minds were not designed to be focused on the present moment; they were developed to worry, perseverate, anticipate and plan.
According to a recent article in Pediatric News by Barbara Howard, MD, (Mindfulness and Child Health) a lot of personal distress is due to negative thoughts about one’s past or fears for one’s future, and these negative thoughts can paralyze us with anxiety, take away pleasure, interrupt our sleep, stimulate physiologic stress responses, and have adverse impacts on health, and we're passing this on to our kids. 1 in 5 children report that they worry all or most of the time, according to the American Psychological Association, and nearly 50% show signs of stress through headaches or lack of sleep. The most common current issues in child health are anxiety, depression, sleep problems, stress, and even adverse childhood experiences, all of which appear to stem from our culture, according to Dr. Howard.
But, it doesn't have to be this way. Today we have the luxury of not worrying all of the time, so we should take advantage. We have to work to balance our negative thoughts, or the cost is our own well-being, and the well-being of our kids. According to Dr. Howard, the most promising method to managing stressful thinking, for both children and their parents, is to learn and practice mindfulness. The below video claims mindfulness is a super power because it allows you to create a buffer between a stimulus and your reaction to it. Practicing mindfulness allows you to observe negative thoughts, just like you're watching them in a movie, instead of getting carried away by them or letting them take over. If we can reduce negative thoughts by simply letting them pass by or choosing not to engage with them, we reduce stress and anxiety, and have more brain space to enjoy the pleasures of life.
Teaching this skill to our kids is imperative to their health, happiness and overall well-being, too. According to Dr. Howard, the goal of mindfulness is to listen to one’s own feelings and thoughts as “just thoughts.” Being aware that feelings, both pleasant and unpleasant, tend to rise and subside just like the weather beyond your control is a form of “emotion education.” Teaching children to let these feelings pass by, rather than respond to them, is the goal. And, when children are empowered with this skill of self-regulation, it is nothing short of a super power.
Click here for mindfulness audio for children and teens to empower them to check in with their body using a body scan, self-regulate using the breath and to simply observe their emotions instead of respond to them.
CONFESSION: I used to be so negative, extremely stressed and a constant worrier. One day, years ago, my husband pointed this out and I thought, "Yuck! I don't want to be like that. Who would ever want to be around someone like that?" So, I began to pick and choose what negative things I talked about, then I began to pick and choose which negative things I cared about, and in doing that I realized that I really do control what negative thoughts I choose to engage with. Sounds profound, huh? Well, it really was for me who just played victim to my negative thoughts. I definitely still have a lot of work to do to rid myself of the old Negative Nellie, but at least now my husband still wants to be around me.