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Wellness Matters

Mindfulness- Not just for Stress Reduction

Harvard Health Letter February 1, 2016

Mindfulness, which trains you to focus your mind on the present moment, is more than a popular meditation technique. It’s been shown to help treat depression and anxiety and improve sleep quality. And it’s now being studied as a complementary therapy for cancer, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. “We’re seeing an exponential increase in doctors embracing mindfulness as a treatment,” says Dr. Ronald Siegel, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and faculty editor of the Harvard Special Health Report Positive Psychology.

Mindfulness trains you to observe your thoughts, emotions, and internal and external sensations without judgment. This keeps your thoughts from drifting to the past or future and helps you focus on each moment as it happens. The process can lead to improvements in concentration and emotional well-being.

Mindfulness also activates the relaxation response (the opposite of the fight-or-flight response), which reduces stress and thereby lowers your levels of epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol, as well as lowering your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen consumption.

Impact on physical conditions-

How do stress reduction and focusing on the present moment help treat physical conditions? Many of these conditions—from chronic back pain to psoriasis—actually have stress-related components, meaning that stress helps to create, maintain, and worsen the symptoms of the condition. “Reducing stress reduces symptoms and may also assist in resolving the disorder,” explains Dr. Siegel.

Many disorders are made worse by trying to avoid or resist discomfort. “Insomnia is a good example of this. Feeling afraid that you won’t get to sleep and trying too hard to sleep is what keeps you awake,” says Dr. Siegel. “Mindfulness helps us to accept and embrace both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. If we can allow unpleasant experiences, it helps us to relax and function more normally physically.”

In other disorders, such as cancer, psychological factors have little influence on the disease. “However, thoughts have a big effect on how a person functions with cancer and how one navigates the moment-to-moment experience of having the disease,” says Dr. Siegel. “Mindfulness helps people cope better by living more fully in the presence of the disease and thereby suffering less.”

Mindfulness quick-start guide

Want to try mindfulness? Try this for 10 minutes a day initially, and work up from there:

Sit quietly, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing.

Say a word such as “peace” or “one” each time you exhale.

Don’t worry about thoughts that come to mind; come back to them later, and repeat your word. This helps bring your attention back to the present. You may only be able to sustain this for a few moments as you begin, but with practice you’ll find yourself relaxing for longer periods.

How it’s being used

Mindfulness isn’t a cure-all for illness; it’s a complementary therapy. Does it work? “I’ve seen people combine mindfulness with an incremental but steady return to physical activity, and very often recover fully from chronic back pain,” says Dr. Siegel. Mindfulness is also being used for bronchitis (to help relieve the distress of coughing), gastrointestinal distress, headaches, and sleep disturbances, among other conditions.

Dr. Randal Zusman, a cardiologist and Harvard Medical School associate professor, prescribes mindfulness and other meditative practices to help lower blood pressure. “We’ve found that the relaxation response is very effective in lowering blood pressure by as much as 15 or more points. This is a strategy that has potential for anyone to use,” he says. Anyone who’s willing to make an effort, that is. “There will always be some who prefer interventions that don’t require work and help them avoid discomfort. But for people who are willing to work on themselves, mindfulness is the medicine of the future,” says Dr. Siegel.

Not all doctors prescribe mindfulness. An editorial published Oct. 6, 2015, in The Journal of the American Medical Association, notes that while 79% of medical schools offer some element of mindfulness training, some physicians grounded in Western medicine are not on board yet with a place for mindfulness in the clinical toolbox. “Most doctors have far more training in prescribing drugs and procedures than in teaching health-enhancing skills,” says Dr. Siegel. “But we can supplement conventional medical interventions by learning to practice mindfulness ourselves.”




Click on the links below to read all of Rob’s articles

Harvard Health Letter reprint – Mindfulness July 2017

High Season July 2017

Gratitude is a Positive Choice June 2017

Spiritual Fitness April 2017

Cross Train the Brain April 2017

The Second Pillar of Prevention- Stress Management March 2017

Food as Medicine: The First Principle of Prevention March 2017

The Stories We Write and The Stories We Live February 2017

Neighbors Caring In Northampton January 2017

How Much Support Is Enough? January 2017

Aging In Place January 2017

Seasonal Tidbits December 2016

Want To Make A Healthy Change? Start With the Right Goal December 2016

Living in the Rhythm of the Year December 2016

Fight Heartburn and GERD: Diet and Lifestyle Can Make a Difference (Part one of two) December 2016

Fight Heartburn and GERD: Diet and Lifestyle Can Make a Difference (Part two of two) December 2016

The Four Keys To Well-Being November 2016

Fitness Committee Working to Get You Moving October 2016

CPR-Responding in a Cardiac Emergency October 2016

Independent Musing October 2016

10 Easy Steps to Prevent Colds and Flu September 2016

Be Prepared For Stroke Response September 2016

Musings at the Edge of Things August 2016

Anybody Home? August 2016

Vitalize 360-A Powerful Tool in the Wellness Toolkit July 2016

Directing your Care- Hospice at the Roads End July 2016

Feeling Better is as Easy as ABC June 2016

Directing Your Care – Certified Home Care is the VNA June 2016

Directing Your Care – Time Spent in Rehab June 2016

Retired Men at Work May 2016

Tick Prevention May 2016

Directing Your Care: Who is the Hospitalist? May 2016

Directing Your Care: Injured When Away From Home April 2016

New Partner on the Path: Lathrop’s Fitness Committee April 2016

Responding to an Emergency: Lathrop’s Safety Net March 2016

What’s Your Plan? March 2016

Foods that Fight Inflammation February 2016

Straight Talk On Depression February 2016

Reaching For Fitness January 2016

Pendant and Pull Cords – January 2016

Caregiver Support Group – January 2016

Mindfulness Basics -December 2015

Holding Light in Darkening Days – December 2015

Correct Walker Use – December 2015

Assistance for You Should the Time Come – November 2015

The Gift of Never-ending Work – October 2015

On Being Mortal – October 2015

Grief and Praise – Changing Aging October 2015

Cultivating Vitality, Yoga – September 2015

MIND Diet – September 2015

Staying Healthy in the Months Ahead – September 2015

Walking Promo – September 2015

Falls, the Game Changer – August 2015

Stay Driving -August 2015

More on Driving Safety – August 2015

Wellness Plan and Coordinating Care – July 2015

Tune ups, Maintenance and Possible Spare Parts – July 2015

Six Dimensions of Wellness – July 2015

Morning Edition Walking Piece – June 2015

MD Recommendations – June 2015

Informing the Web of Care – Advanced Directives -June 2015

The Web of Caring Part 1 – May 2015

The Web of Caring Part 2 – May 2015

Wellness Matters – April 2015