My dad says that the older you get the faster time goes and he’s not wrong! I can’t believe we’re halfway through this year! And almost finished another school year!
I love teaching but even I am getting to the point of counting down the days and I can see the teachers and the children are exhausted as well. So if that’s you too, it’s just that time of the year!
I want to talk a little bit about our prefrontal cortex in this week’s blog. Simply put, this is the part of our brain that thinks. In mindfulness our thinking mind is very often referred to as our monkey mind because so often our thoughts go from one thing to another quickly and before we know it we’re thinking about a parking fee we got four years ago! Our brains develop from back to front, so the prefrontal cortex is the newest part of our brain. This is the part that humans have but monkeys and apes don’t have. It is where our brain manages processes such as reasoning, logic, problem-solving, planning, memory, focus and attention, developing and carrying out goals, stopping your impulses, and developing your personality. It actually doesn't finish developing until you're 25 years old. Which explains why you have to repeat yourself so often to your children or why your toddler will walk up to a bookshelf and one by one drop all the books on the floor. Their prefrontal cortex is very much a work in progress.
When you are stressed or anxious, our prefrontal cortex detaches from the rest of the brain and it stops working. This is because when we are in a stressful situation our body goes into fight, flight or freeze mode in order to keep us safe and get us safely our of the dangerous, stressful situation. This is a tactic that we as humans have carried with us from the time we were apes and when we were cave people this was a very useful strategy in order to keep us safe and alive. Nowadays however our stress are a lot less life-threatening. I may be under pressure and stress to find a new house before the end of my lease, but I won’t be killed by anything if I don’t find a new home on time. My brain however doesn’t know this. It just knows that I am feeling threatened and attacked so it immediately goes into fight, flight or freeze mode which is also known as our stress response.
When I am in this mode my prefrontal cortex is unable to work properly which means that I can’t think clearly. You may recall a time you were called up to the front of the class in school in order to answer a question or you were asked a question by your boss in a meeting and suddenly your mind has gone blank. You knew the answer before you were asked but your fight, flight or freeze mode has kicked in and you have no idea what to say.
The way to calm your mind down and to allow your prefrontal cortex to come back down and start functioning again is to take slow calm breaths. Take a breath in through your nose and slowly release it out through your mouth. Ideally the out breath should be longer then the in breath. You could even place your hands on you belly to really feel the breath. Slowly breathing in and slowly breathing out.
Mindfulness in Action
This week’s mindfulness in action is to practice calming your mind in situations that it doesn’t need to be calmed which will make it easier to calm yourself during stressful situations. So every time you remember I want you to place your hands on your lower belly and I want you to take three slow and deep breaths in through your mouth and slowly out through your nose. Breathing in slowly and breathing out slowly. Try this with your toddler or children as well, so you can start to instill these coping techniques in them.