During times of intense stress, experts say one of the best ways to regain clarity and decisionmaking abilities is to temporarily bring mental focus away from stressors and toward the natural functions of the body.
Primarily, that means concentrating on breathing, although many techniques exist. The idea is to prevent the minds limbic system from disrupting the ability of the cerebral cortex to carry out higher functions such as planning, assessing options and empathy. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine in Boston, and Scott Rogers, founder and director of the Institute for Mindfulness Studies in Miami Beach, Fla., say the key is to focus the mind on the bodys sensations to induce the relaxation response.
What individuals should do is regularly bring forth the relaxation response, and you can do that quite easily. The essence of the relaxation response is to break the train of everyday thought, Benson said. Rogers refers to the practice as mindfulness, which he defined as preventing the mind from getting lost in the past or future by focusing on the present.
Rogers teaches a relaxation method called the 4-7-8 technique to help improve mental focus. Start with all fingers stretched outward. Then bring them into a clenched fist while inhaling and counting up to four. Hold the breath for seven seconds while keeping the fists tight. Finally, slowly exhale while uncurling the fingers to an outstretched position again. Repeat the process as many or as few times as needed.