When you think of the phrase, ‘safe space’ what images or memories does that evoke for you?
In our previous post, Mechanical Marvels and the Art of Savoring we briefly discussed the advantages of developing a savoring practice, but we haven’t really delved into the importance that having dedicated spaces where you can feel physically and psychologically safe.
The environments and people we interact with can have a critical influence on your state of mental health. If you don’t feel safe or free to process your emotions in an environment that is free and safe from additional stress triggers and judgments it doesn’t just sap you of your own mental energy, it also erodes your capacity for trust, forbearance, and impacts the energy that you bring to your community.
Neuroscientists believe that the brain is the organ that learns, which means that it is designed to be altered by experiences we imprint into our subconscious.
Day after day, our minds are taking in information that is building and shaping our brains and even the fundamental makeup of our DNA.
In a world which we may not always be able to shield ourselves from triggering inputs, the research that supports this scientific insight posits the possibility that we can, at the very least, manage the way we respond to adversity by creating spaces where we can make sense of what we encounter, and deconstruct our options for how to best to approach moving forward with the information we take in.
But there’s one catch!
We can’t accurately process that information when our minds are triggered to shut down our higher order thinking decision making processes. And stress activation in the brain creates an entire physiological network of responses that are designed to stop us in our tracks, quickly detect potential threats, and get us out of the situation creating the inputs that potentially threaten our safety.
It’s an evolutionary mechanism.
In fact, Neuroscientist, Dr. Rick Hanson, like many other notable cognitive researchers, uses the metaphor of a garden to describe the human mind.
Hanson suggests that when you find yourself faced with mental afflictions or triggering stimuli, you have a couple of options:
You could simply observe what you notice, about how your mind responds to the information it takes in, as an observer looks at weeds and flowers without judging or changing anything. The observer simply takes notice and bears witness to the stimuli and how one’s attention to this stimuli changes.
Alternatively, you could take on the laborious task of trying to weed out negative thoughts, to deconstruct and pull aspects of one’s mind apart trying to make sense of each intrusive element, which can leave the observer preoccupied, physiologically drained, and disoriented without the right support system or end goal in mind.
Many researchers have found that the process of weeding negative thoughts, often forces the observer to amplify the triggers, creating more symptoms of physiological and psychological reactivity.
If you keep resting your mind upon self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt.
More recently, researchers have begin to advocate for an alternative approach, positive psychology, which leverages the brain’s neuroplasticity and ability to acquire and imprint new information to help clients to improve their personal quality of life.
Or, as Hanson describes, “You could pull weeds by decreasing what’s negative in your mind. Or, you could grow flowers by increasing the positive in your mind.”
Having a dedicated space, whether it be a tangible location, set of transportable artifacts, or personal ritual is essential for repairing the afflicted mind.
That being said, we want to hear from you! What kinds of artifacts, rituals, and physical spaces evoke a sense of comfort and reassurance for you?