“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.” ~ Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
Last week in Part 1, we discussed a bit about the background of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In MBSR, the treatment focuses on meditation practices and how they can be applied to routine daily life and interacting with others. This research proven treatment program promotes well-being, self-care and is effective for managing stress as well as certain medical conditions. This week, we will look further into how MBSR works for stress, anxiety/depression, chronic pain and cancer.
Stress is an unavoidable part of life. We all experience it, but what differs is how we react to stress. Kabat-Zinn proposes that the ability to adapt to change allows us to more effectively cope with stress. The practice of meditation brings self-awareness to the fact that our minds and bodies are continually changing. Stress hardiness refers to the idea that some people have this characteristic that protects them from becoming unwell psychologically despite experiencing stress. Kabat-Zinn’s research shows a measurable increase in stress hardiness, even 3 years, after participation in the MBSR program.
Anxiety & Depression
Treatment of anxiety and depression usually begins with counseling and behavioral interventions followed by medication, if necessary. Medication may be effective, but with long-term use people may experience side effects or become adapted to it and require increased dosages. In my experience, one of the most difficult aspects of people using anti-depressants is trying to come off of them.
Studies indicate that MBSR has broad-spectrum antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, and is beneficial for general psychological health. Kabat-Zinn was involved in studies looking at the effects of MBSR on specific anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias. He and his colleagues concluded that anxiety, depression and panic decreased significantly following MBSR.
MBSR has been studied in various populations experiencing chronic pain. In some cases, the effects vary depending on the type of pain, severity of pain and other factors such as sleep disturbances or mood symptoms. Overall, mindfulness practice demonstrates benefits in the setting of chronic pain and can improve pain symptoms by reducing the amount of negative thoughts, reducing reactivity to distressing thoughts/feelings, reducing psychological symptoms such as anxiety/depression, enhancing self-monitoring/body awareness, and reducing tension.
Individuals living with cancer and who are undergoing treatment, often experience sleep disturbances, stress and mood symptoms. Studies demonstrate that participation in a MBSR program can have positive benefits for sleep quality, stress symptoms, mood disturbances, and fatigue levels in these patients. In addition to what we have already discussed, it is thought the MBSR program may improve sleep by reducing the amount of recurrent cognitive distortions and negative or ruminative thoughts.
Like any form of treatment or self-care program, results may vary from person to person. Overall, MBSR is beneficial to people who want to reduce their stress and improve their well-being, as well as for people suffering from psychological symptoms/conditions, chronic pain and cancer. And even better, it has no side effects.
Do you consider yourself to be stress hardy?