Many preventable accidents occur because of human error. In fact, more than 90% of motor vehicle accidents were caused in part by human error, according to the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Even Google’s self-driving car recently had its first accident, which was ironically partially caused by human error. When we don’t follow safety instructions, take needed precautions or fail to focus on what we’re doing, bad things can happen – like vehicle and industrial accidents.
One major cause of not being careful is stress. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress is a factor in five out of the six leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease, and accidents.
What exactly happens when we’re stressed? Our mind gets taken over by a part of the brain called the amygdala, also known as the primitive or reptilian brain. This is the same part of the brain that’s activated when an animal’s life is in danger. Essentially, our body temporarily increases strength by pumping blood to the arms and legs to help us fight or run during the brief time we’re in harm’s way. This is usually a quick response, but when stress goes on day in and day out, it suppresses the immune system, shuts down the digestive and tissue repair systems, and increases the bad cholesterol while decreasing the good. Left unchecked and continuing long term, stress can kill you.
Different people have different stresses– from economic concerns, to a personal disagreement, to being overwhelmed at work – your body responds by going into “fight or flight” mode. But stress is an internal reaction to external stimuli that you can learn to control. When you feel stressed, ask yourself, “Is my life in imminent danger?” If the answer is no, which it usually is, you need to turn off that primitive brain.
How? One great way is through mindfulness meditation, which involves sitting comfortably, focusing on breathing and bringing your mind’s focus to the present without drifting to past or future concerns.
Don’t know how? Start small. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed and shut your eyes for five minutes. Focus on your breathing, how the chest moves in and out, or the sensation of the air leaving and entering your nose or your heartbeat. Sounds easy, right? It’s actually very hard work.
At some point, you’ll become distracted and your mind will wander. When that occurs, simply acknowledge that it’s okay and focus your mind back on breathing. Congratulations, you’re learning how to turn off the reptilian brain. Repeat daily and try to increase the amount of time spent meditating. With practice, meditating can help you to be present, reducing accidents and making you healthier and more productive.
How much time should you spend meditating? Studies have found that a little bit of mindfulness goes a long way. I try to spend 15 minutes every morning practicing meditation, but on a busy or stressful day, I shoot for twenty to start my day right and set myself up for a calm and successful day.
Dave Sinclair, CEO The WorkPlace Solution