Stress Impacts All of Us
Stress happens. It is a part of life, including growing up. When we rise to the occasions that external stressors present, we grow and mature. For the youth that the MBA Project serves who often life in situations of significant violence and crime, stress often goes into overload mode. This kind of toxic stress occurs when the issues we confront consistently outpace our healthy coping abilities.
Significant stress negatively impacts attention, emotion and mood regulation, sleep, and connections to healthy “pro-social” institutions such as schools. Worse yet, ongoing exposure to toxic stress during youth can have lifelong impacts on our mental and physical wellness.
The Challenges of Working with Toxic Stress
Toxic stress is challenging to work with because our stress response taps into some very old survival hardware in our evolutionary biology.
“Mindful meditation is a way to release from all the stress . . . It’s always like you can just take a break. It’s like taking a break from life. It’s like pausing. You got a remote control for life. You just hit pause and all the [stuff] that’s going on around you doesn’t matter right now; you’re just doing you. So it’s all that is there in the moment.”
Human brains form habits through repetition. Unfortunately, when our neurons habitually fire in the same patterns from stressors, we lose the ability to distinguish between real danger and a routine life stressor. The youth that MBA serves have had a consistent overload of toxic stress. It “crashes” their systems and makes the autonomic nervous system’s “flight or fight” reaction much more likely. For youth who suffer from trauma, these misplaced reactions become chronic and habitual.
The MBA Project’s Solution: Mindfulness and Emotional Awareness
Toxic stress lie deep in the nervous system, we need tools that go beyond the conceptual mind to directly target that system. To transform our habitual responses, we need to regularly practice our skills when we are not in “fight or flight” mode.
The MBA Project Curriculum focuses on bringing out the natural gifts and resilience that we all have. We build upon both modern neuroscience and thousand year old tools for stress management, emotion regulation and interpersonal skills.
MBA programs focus on developing mindfulness, a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, emotions, sensations and what is actually happening, right here, right now. We bring out the inherent goodness in the youth we serve and help them find that in others around them. We focus on building relationships, empathy, forgiveness and effective communication based on respect.
From Coping to Wellness
- Attention – Mindfulness strengthens our ability to concentrate in work and school.
- Control Our Emotions – Understanding our emotional states helps us recognize when they occur, to remember that they are impermanent, and to be able to respond to them skillfully.
- Compassion – Awareness of our own thoughts, emotions, and senses grows our understanding of what other people are experiencing.
- Peace of Mind – Breathing, somatic body based practices and tuning into our mental states help us relax and find the right course of action for the next moment regardless as to what is happening around us.
- Resilience – Getting grounded helps to deal with changing circumstances.