You may think of mindfulness as something practiced by Buddhist monks in some monastery in Tibet. But the ability to observe sensations, thoughts, emotions and our reaction to our environment in general, with detachment and without judgment, is proving to be useful tool in treating stress.
This concept of mindfulness has been incorporated into so called mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) with a program, developed by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, in the 1970’s.
Kabat-Zin, who was himself trained in Buddhist practices from teachers like Tich Nhat Hanh, has in turn trained many coaches and MBSR programs are now available in many places in the US and Europe.
The program consists of a series of group workshops over the course of 8 weeks teaching mental exercises, yoga, breathing, and meditation. All with a focus on enhancing awareness of how we react to the world around us, and our brains tendency to habitual negative thoughts.
In a detailed analysis of multiple studies assessing MBSR, published in Campbell Systemic Review in 2016, people with chronic pain, cancer, anxiety, depression and burn out showed a “moderate and constant positive effect” on both mental and somatic problems.
Neva Trenis, pupil of local instructor John McLaughlin MD, in Fredericksburg VA, notes “the techniques I learned in MBSR have helped me to put the briefest pause between a stressor and my reaction to it” and “It's in that pause that I find a choice to react or not. It takes lots of practice, but it's changing my life.”
Stress is a pervasive and harmful fact of life. There are many ways to combat it, but learning MBSR and to observe and understand how the mind creates stress within us by its negative reactions can be good for your mental and physical health.