Reduce Stress with Mindfulness
Are you ever aware – fully aware – of your thoughts, your feelings, the sensations on your body? Most of us aren’t. Yet if we could focus our attention on the moment, without judging or analyzing our thoughts, research shows we could use this mindfulness to boost our health in many ways.
“Mindfulness is portable. You can do it anywhere. You don’t need any physical tools, and it doesn’t cost any money,” says Kimberly Erlich, CPNP, nurse practitioner and coordinator of the Adolescent Behavioral Health Project at Mills-Peninsula and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a skill you have to learn, just like riding a bike. But it has great longevity and benefits.”
A Mindful Movement Catches On
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk at Cornell University, first introduced Americans to the concept of mindfulness in the 1960s. Then, at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970s, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which is now widely used throughout the U.S.
While mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism, it is not a religion. It’s a skill that can be applied in any stressful situation.
Psychologists and social scientists have studied mindfulness for nearly three decades. Research has found mindfulness can:
- lower blood pressure
- reduce pain
- improve concentration
- help manage anxiety and depression
- has other benefits
What, exactly, is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the moment by focusing on your breath and on your senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. You observe your feelings and thoughts as if from a distance, without judging them.
There are many mindfulness techniques and exercises. One is as simple as conscious breathing – being fully aware of all your senses as you breathe in and breathe out.
At the senior behavioral health program at Mills-Peninsula, occupational therapist Ann Agbayani teaches progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing to help people practice mindfulness. “Start at your toes,” she tells students. “Tense them and relax them. Slowly move up, part by part, to your head.”
Renée Burgard, a psychotherapist who teaches mindfulness classes throughout the Bay Area and at Silicon Valley companies including Google and Apple, gives her students a Velcro dot to put on something they touch every day – a doorknob, a light switch, a brush. It’s a way to learn how to stop, breathe, and practice “non-thinking” for just a little while, she says. Try incorporating a few simple mindfulness exercises into your weekly routine.
“Once you develop it,” Erlich says, “mindfulness can help you reduce stress throughout your life.”