Everyday mindfulness for stress relief

by Lisa Young
U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)

Do the inevitable stresses of daily living leave you feeling like you are missing out on the joys of life?  Would you be interested in learning how to slow down and enjoy life, moment by moment? 

Since 1979 there has been a growing interest in what is called “mindfulness” practices. Mindfulness can be defined as a conscious, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling or sensation is purposefully acknowledged and accepted in the present moment with a non-judgmental attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance. Although inspired by Buddhist teachings, there is nothing religious about mindfulness, and it can be practiced independent of religious or cultural influence.

During the past 30 years, there has been an increase in the study of mindfulness. Current research suggests that mindfulness practices are useful in the treatment of pain, stress, anxiety, depression, disordered eating and addiction. Most recent studies on mindfulness have looked at this new field as a psychological tool capable of stress reduction and the elevation of positive emotions. Studies inquiring into “mindfulness-based stress-reduction” interventions have produced the following findings:

» Benefits of improved immune system
» Increase in positive effect and a faster recovery from a negative experience
» Reducing distractive behaviors to reduce stress
» Emotional regulation and focused breathing resulting in positive responses
» Declines in mood disturbance and stress
Research centered on mindfulness as a tool to elevate and sustain positive emotional states found that meditation practices showed:
» Increases over time in purpose in life and social support, and decreased illness symptoms
» Increased brain and immune function
» Higher subjective well-being promoting the perception of “having enough.”

Mindfulness has been used as treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder at Veterans Administration hospitals. U.S. Army Ranger Monty Reed stated in an interview for CNN that a therapy that incorporates mindfulness has helped him with the chronic pain, flashbacks and anger resulting from a parachute jump accident.

“Mindfulness is a belief system that I use to change my attitude toward bad things that happen to me, and that gives me control of the results or the outcome,” he said.

Mindfulness is also used to help patients with eating disorders, such as weight loss, binge eating, anorexia or bulimia. It teaches patients to focus on the present and eat food with purpose on purpose. The idea is to be aware of any judgments that occur with the eating process, release them, and concentrate on how the food tastes.

When used as a part of therapy for depression and anxiety, psychotherapists have included mindfulness techniques to manage negative thought patterns. Some approaches are focusing on each inhale and exhale of breathing to gain a sense of control, or choosing to visualize a calming time or place that brings a sense of peace.

To experience a deeper sense of living in the moment, try some of the following simple mindfulness exercises:

» Meditation
» Deep breathing
» Listening to music
» Observing your thoughts
» Journaling

Virtually any activity can be a mindfulness exercise if you bring a heightened sense of focus to what you are doing right then. Try it and find yourself less stressed and more grounded in the present moment.

For more information about mindfulness and stress reduction, visit the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society’s website at  www.umassmed.edu/content.aspx?id=41252 or the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s website at http://nccam.nih.gov/health/meditation/overview.htm.