Amy Jeanguenat, founder of Mindgen, LLC, has shared how practicing mindfulness can help ease stress to a number of you at previous ISHI conferences, but we know not all of you were able to watch her presentations. During these uncertain times, it is important to find ways to manage stress, so we’ve compiled some of Amy’s wise words.
For those who may not have heard of it, can you briefly describe what mindfulness is and what practicing mindfulness entails?
Have you ever experienced arriving at work and you don’t even remember driving there, misplacing the same items everyday (e.g. phone, keys, glasses, wallet), short-tempered or defensive when you don’t mean to be, or eating when bored or distressed? These are some examples of being mindless. Mindfulness can be described as bringing awareness and intentionality to the present moments of our lives in such a way that we do not label a situation (e.g. as good or bad, fair or unfair, pretty or ugly, important or unnecessary, urgent or not urgent). It can create a pause to allow for a fresh perspective before our default responses, actions, and judgments take over our mind.
The practice of mindfulness can be used as a tool to counteract stress responses by providing mechanisms to train both the brain and the body. An example of a mindfulness technique is creating a pattern interrupt by concentrating on a focal point (such as the breath). Once you become aware of your mind wandering to thoughts, feelings, or sensations (which it will), you disengage from them and return your concentration back to the focal point. It sounds simple but can be extremely challenging to accomplish.
Think of mindfulness as an exercise to train your brain similar to how you might train to play a sport. By practicing you develop muscles and techniques that can then be applied to situations outside of the practice such as during stressful moments at work or at home. Overtime one can start to take control of the agitated mind and let go of unbeneficial mental patterns. Practicing can be done as a type of silent meditation or during daily functions such as eating, standing, or walking.
What are the benefits of being mindful? Is there a certain type of person who would benefit most?
Practicing being mindful has both physiological and psychological benefits by in part changing hormone responses in the body. It can reduce blood pressure, slow hardening of arteries, boost the immune system, and increase positive emotional responses in the brain. These effects can translate into reduced anxiety, increased focus, more restful sleep, and deeper fulfillment.
Unless you already have complete awareness of the present moment, all the time, you can benefit from the practice of mindfulness. It can be especially impactful for people who suffer from stress, lack peace of mind, or find their brains have constant chatter whereby their focus moves frequently between the past and the future. Meditation can become very important in succeeding with the goal of being rooted in the present moment more often. With practice, mindfulness can also go much deeper to help with emotional regulation, create pauses to interrupt autopilot reactions, aid in self-acceptance, and create a connection to compassion and non-duality.
Launching Mindgen, LLC is quite a departure from your previous line of work. How did you become interested in mindfulness, and what led you to start your own company?
When I experienced chronic stress at work, I found it difficult to keep workplace pressures within the constraints of the office and often brought ‘work stress’ home with me. This affected my health, sleep patterns, and relationships. As a director, I also saw how employee stress affected turnover intention, absenteeism, poor communication, and decision making. When I started a daily practice of present moment awareness, I finally found a space to allow myself to be quiet. I learned how to have a constructive relationship with stress and see problems through a new lens with clearer and more creative solutions. Throughout this time my curiosity into mindfulness and meditation teachings kept growing and I felt a sense of responsibility to dive deeper and teach others techniques to reduce stress and pressure in their lives. Launching Mindgen, LLC gave me the flexibility to combine my passion for forensics with mindfulness development.
There are actually a lot of parallels between the forensic industry and the mindfulness industry. For instance, both are affected by pop-culture, have a need for more independent research, are working on standards development so there is more consistency, and struggle with the arguments that everyone who practices should be certified. Ultimately, being a forensic scientist allows me to be a better meditation teacher. By truly understanding the stress points related to the field, I can hone in on techniques to overcome workplace pressures. In addition, being a meditation teacher allows me to be a better forensic scientist as by practicing mindfulness I am more aware of my mind and body triggers related to stress. This awareness can help translate to better focus, decision making, and conscious communication. Being in both domains I see influences that can go much deeper than just stress reduction to aid in transformational culture changes needed in forensics. I am excited about the possibilities.
What may a person experience if they do not find a way to cope with this level of stress?
Chronic stress can impair the immune system, generate unhealthy behaviors, reduce the ability to think clearly, and lead to unregulated emotions. The effects of stress and vicarious trauma are cumulative, may be permanent, and impact an individual both professionally and personally. Strategies to increase resilience can include mind/body exercises, flipping the script on negative situations, present moment awareness techniques, positive social connections, enhancing strengths, and self-compassion.
Can you offer an exercise that analysts can practice now to help manage their stress?
During the workshop, attendees will explore factors related to stress and vicarious trauma but also learn a variety of skills to build mental strength. Learning how to work with the body and the mind will be an underlining theme. Connection with breath is one tool that is great to learn as the breath is with us at all times. With every mood and emotion, the breath takes on different qualities. Changing the breath can alter the state of the mind and emotional energy too. Slowing the breath calms the nervous system, is a tool to cultivate self-awareness, and provides a pause to reflect and choose a response. A technique known as 4-7-8 breathing can be performed in the moment or practiced daily to cultivate more effective involuntary breathing patterns.
Through your nose inhale to the count of 4
Hold your breath to the count of 7
Exhale through your mouth to the count of 8
The above method is one breath cycle. Try to repeat the breath cycle several times. If performing the 4-7-8 method is too challenging try starting with intervals of 2-3-4 and working your way up to 4-7-8. Doubling the exhalation allows for deeper breathing to occur to reduce anxiety.
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