by Dr Karen Chan (Acupuncturist, Physiotherapist)
What is Mindfulness?
Do you ever find your mind is constantly thinking- thinking about your chores, your work, your relationships, your past, your future, the grocery list, the Christmas party etc. So much thinking and constant mind chatter that it makes you feel worried or stressed, or even angry or sad?
Mindfulness in essence, is the state of being fully present and being able to soak up the beauty of the ‘now’ experience. The ability of your mind to be able to be aware, present and attentive to what is currently happening, the surrounds, your body and the emotions. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
However as functioning humans in the 21st century, we often lead busy lives, always on the go; including our minds. Our minds can often wander which then distracts from the task at hand and we can easily lose the enjoyment of the present. Sometimes our thoughts and worries can become overwhelming, attributing to stress and anxiety which can then cause major health issues (see my blog on stress).
Why do Mindfulness?
It is evidence-based to give you greater body awareness, promotes relaxation, improves stress management and coping skills and helps prevent physical stress symptoms and promote overall physical and emotional health and wellbeing. It has shown to consistently outperform other treatments such as health education, relaxation training, supportive psychotherapy; and seems to be comparable with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
There is moderately strong evidence and research for the following:
Chronic Pain: As this has a high correlation to stress, Mindfulness based Stress Reduction (MBSR) reduces pain and reliance on pain medication, is comparative to CBT, and shows improved functional limitations, especially in people with chronic low back pain.
Acute pain eg post operative or as part of rehabilitation. Multiple studies with acute post operative back surgeries and for athletes undertaking rehab
Stress and resilience- Stress in itself has so many effects on the immune system. MBSR seems to have a positive effect on reducing daytime cortisol secretion and HRV (heart rate variability which is an indicator of potential autonomic nervous system imbalances and thus is a potentially good wellbeing marker) coherence. Mindfulness may reduce the pro-inflammatory markers.
Depression/anxiety and relapse- strong evidence for reducing symptoms in acutely depressed individuals. Mindfulness’s aims to increase self awareness and to foster open thoughts and feelings has been postulated to turn attention away from self judgement, rumination and avoidance behaviours often associated with depression/anxiety.
Fibromyalgia - improved quality of life, especially when combined with exercise and Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
And there is some promising research towards:
Emotional intelligence- increasing our own ability to recognise our own and other’s emotions; and self regulation of these. This will inevitably help with decision making, information processing and reducing emotional reactivity.
Healthier behaviours- alter dietary behaviours/fostering healthier eating, decreased heavy smoking and even improved sleep
Alzheimers dementia - reduction of cognitive decline, reduction in perceived stress, increased quality of life (QOL), increase in functional connectivity, percent volume brain change and cerebral cortex blood flow
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - reducing symptoms
Fertility- reducing stress, depressive tendencies and increasing wellbeing in women with fertility issues
Relationships- improved romantic satisfaction and the ability and willingness to accept a partner’s imperfections
Work benefits: increase attentional focus at work, decreases work- life conflict, decrease employee absenteeism, and also to increased work performance and job satisfaction (studies show positive influences even with small doses of MBSR of a 6week training program)
Addictions- reduces addictive disorders and behaviours
How do you do Mindfulness?
Some examples of how to start building mindfulness:
Focus on the present moment. Try practising during your everyday activities eg walking, eating, driving, and even showering! The key is to try and pay attention to the present activity and take note of the awakening of your senses. This feels like…this tastes like…this sounds like.. this smells like…Ask yourself how you are feeling? You may find your mind starts to wander, or you start thinking about the past or the future or ‘stresses’. That is okay, just bring your mind back to the present. Try to take in your breathing pattern, the surroundings, notice things, try not to be judgemental about them and just let them be. Allow your thoughts just to come and go.
Perhaps try some mindfulness breathing/meditation, some mindfulness eating next time you’re at lunch or some mindfulness moving next time you’re going for a walk.
Is Mindfulness supposed to be easy?
You may find it very difficult to calm your mind chatter. The good news is the more you practice, the more you will become more efficient at it. Being mindful is a basic human function that we are born with; sometimes it just gets forgotten along the way. Think of when we were a young child- generally we were not that concerned about the past or the future or quick to make judgements. We just allowed things to be. Like when we learn an exercise, the brain needs to learn to re-train so it can take time and practice.
Why I recommend a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program
Most of the research advocates being on an extended program of 8weeks to allow for learning and change. It is a practice, much like exercise, that requires continued practise and discipline to allow for continued benefit. To learn how to practise mindfulness and strategies that work for you, I highly recommend being initially guided and taught from skilled and trained MBSR leaders, rather than using apps or readings or google. That way you can have tools or differing strategies that are individually suited to you.
In this modern epidemic of opiate addiction and stress, mindfulness is a proven evidence based technique to increase the physical and emotional wellbeing and quality of life, free yourself from self limiting patterns to create new thought patterns and behaviours.
At the clinic here, we are extremely fortunate to have Anne Rodgers who is trained with Mindfulness Training Institute of Australia, as well as being a trained Meditation and Yoga teacher. She runs a 8 week program (1 per week plus a 1 day retreat) and helps facilitate your Mindfulness journey. Please don’t hesitate to enquire if you have any queries.
Resources for Mindfulness:
Adler-Neal, A. L., & Zeidan, F. (2017). Mindfulness Meditation for Fibromyalgia: Mechanistic and Clinical Considerations. Current Rheumatology Reports, 19(9), 59. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11926-017-0686-0
Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, Cook AJ, Anderson ML, et al. (2016). Effect of mindfulness-based stress reduction versus cognitive behavioral therapy or usual care on back pain and functional limitations in adults with chronic low back pain: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA 315(12):1240–49
Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness Interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 491–516. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-042716-051139
Hofmann, S. G., & Gomez, A. F. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Anxiety and Depression. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 40(4), 739–749. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psc.2017.08.008
Majeed, M. H., Ali, A. A., & Sudak, D. M. (2018). Mindfulness-based interventions for chronic pain: Evidence and applications. Asian Journal of Psychiatry, 32, 79–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajp.2017.11.025
Nery, S. F., Paiva, S. P. C., Vieira, E. L., Barbosa, A. B., Sant’Anna, E. M., Casalechi, M., … Reis, F. M. (2018). Mindfulness-based program for stress reduction in infertile women: Randomized controlled trial. Stress and Health : Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2839
Russell-Williams, J., Jaroudi, W., Perich, T., Hoscheidt, S., El Haj, M., & Moustafa, A. A. (2018). Mindfulness and meditation: treating cognitive impairment and reducing stress in dementia. Reviews in the Neurosciences, 29(7), 791–804. https://doi.org/10.1515/revneuro-2017-0066