Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction: What is It?

mindfulness based stress reductionFor years, the response to helping people deal with stress and the symptoms that chronic stress brings with it has been medication, therapy or a combination of the two. Mindfulness based stress reduction is a proven alternative that many be adapted as a way to combat stress. It has even been proven as a method to combat other medical conditions that can be life altering and in some cases, completely debilitating. Doctors and hospitals around the country and the world have begun to use mindfulness based stress reduction to not only cope with stress, but to treat chronic pain, anxiety, depression and more.

The Origins of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

Mindfulness based stress reduction is a reasonably new concept in the world of medicine, but it is one based on the long standing belief of the Buddhists on the concept of mindfulness. At its center, the practice of mindfulness is the action of focusing on a sole activity as you do it. For example, someone practicing mindfulness would focus only on each inhalation and exhalation of a breath taken. The mind’s focus becomes only that which is occurring in the present moment. In fact, Mindfulness Meditation for Everyone can change your life.

Mindfulness based stress reduction was developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. Since that time, there has been a cascading amount of research nationwide in some of the US’s greatest medical institutions to determine how the process works and to show beneficial effects on patients.

How Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Works

Mindfulness based stress reduction is a form of meditation that involves the practice of mindfulness. As part of this meditation, participants are encouraged to focus only on the moment and the way that your body feels in that moment. Participants are strongly discouraged from allowing the mind to drift to past events or to anticipate future events. Meditation and Mindfulness: Inner Growth in 7 Lessons helps you get there. The theory behind staying focused on the present is to keep the mind clear of stress over the future as well as to keep from mentally replaying past situations.

Part of the meditation and mindfulness involves learning how to scan the entire body, starting either at your head and working down or at your feet and working up. The idea is to go through every part of the body, noting places that either have pain or are tense. Taking the time to focus on each individual place is a very important part of the process and truly experiencing what is going on with each part, whether it is a knot in a shoulder muscle or the rise and fall of the chest when breathing, helps to quiet the inner distractions and thoughts that go through the mind.

This is truly the cornerstone for mindfulness based stress reduction. The activity of doing the full body scan while meditating is a way of training your mind to be truly in the moment. Actively focusing on the present is what trains the body to appropriately respond to stress and pain in daily life outside of meditation and mindfulness. This is where the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction really comes in. When the connection is made between the meditation and daily life, patients begin to see the decrease and elimination of chronic pain, illness, symptoms of chronic stress and more. This can be further explained through 4 Steps to Happiness-Mindfulness Made Simple. It is the trained response of your body to begin this in the moment process, not allow the mind to jump to future events of concern or to dwell on past regrets that can help a person better cope with stress and other illnesses.

healthy young man practice yoga in height mountain at early mornMindfulness Exercises to Try

  • Focus for One Minute: The beauty of this exercise is you can do it anywhere, anytime of day. Take note of the time before starting. Now, focus on your breathing for the next 60 seconds. Keep your eyes open and be mindful of your thoughts when they start to stray. Immediately bring them back to thinking only of your breathing. It will seem a lot longer than one minute, at first. Practice this exercise several times a day to bring your thoughts back to the present in addition to improving your clarity.
  • Mindful Observation: Pick any object nearby. The point of this exercise is to be mindful only of that particular item. Do not try to analyze it, just look at it for exactly what it is. This really helps to center you and make you feel more awake. To illustrate, if you choose to look at your cat, notice the variations in the color of its fur. You will start to see things you have never consciously perceived previously.
  • Mindful Eating: When you are busy, it is easy to scarf down your food in order to get to your next pressing task at hand. Instead, try making your first two bites more mindful. For example, start by taking a first slow bite. As you do so, pay attention to your senses. Notice its appearance, smell, taste and texture. 
  • Stare Outside Your Window: Take a break from the fast paced world and just stare outside your window for a few seconds or a few minutes. It helps to turn off your phone and any other media during this exercise. Watch the leaves rustle on the trees or cars go by. Look at the shapes of the clouds and birds perching. You will notice this exercise helps to give your brain a quick break.

Effectiveness of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction

The amount of research being done on mindfulness based stress reduction has increased annually since its introduction in 1979. In large part, this is to determine the effectiveness of mindfulness based stress reduction as a therapy method. Early studies showed that this mindfulness practice and meditation could not only help alleviate stress but also help people suffering from depression and anxiety. Subsequent studies put these results in doubt based on the quality of the initial research.

Mindfulness based stress reduction founder Jon Kabat-Zinn initially worked with patients with chronic pain to develop mindfulness strategies in order to mitigate pain. Since that initial work, the practices were put to work in a group setting to not only deal with pain, but also stress and depression. Since early 2014, there have been more than 100 randomized control trial results published on mindfulness based approaches to managing stress and pain.

Current thinking is that there may be additional medical conditions that may see benefits from instituting meditation and mindfulness based practices to the treatment plan. These additional conditions that may find this useful include psychological disorders, substance abuse, fibromyalgia, and more. But according to some recent published research, mindfulness based practices such as Meditation for Beginners: What You Need to Know may help to alleviate symptoms of many different disorders and diseases, but won’t actually cure or prevent them.

Mindfulness based stress reduction was initially attempted by Dr. Kabat-Zinn as a last resort for patients that were not getting relief from their pain. It was never intended to treat or prevent illness, but rather as another option for people that were not experiencing relief from their symptoms.

Think of mindfulness based stress reduction as another tool in a large toolbox for dealing with chronic stress, chronic pain and potentially other debilitating conditions. For patients who have not experienced relief with medications or other treatments, or for patients who prefer not to take medications or even for those who are concerned with having a negative drug interaction if they were to take another medication, mindfulness based stress reduction can be the solution that will best help them cope with the condition.