Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
by Janette Grant 13th December 2017
How can Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) help us? We all deal with stress on a daily basis, from the little irritations of life, up to the enormous life-changing events we are sometimes unfortunate to experience! It’s inescapable and brings with it many uncomfortable and distracting symptoms. Stress isn’t just a feeling or a mental state: if we don’t learn to deal with & alleviate those symptoms, it can seep into every area of our life. Stress can cause:
- Low energy
- Upset stomach, including diarrhoea, constipation & nausea
- Aches, pains, and tense muscles
- Chest pain & rapid heartbeat
- Frequent colds & infections
- Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
As well as these physical symptoms, stress can also have an enormous impact on our emotions and general mood including:
- Difficulty in concentrating & racing thoughts
- Problems learning new information
- Forgetfulness, disorganisation & confusion
- Trouble in making decisions
- Feeling overloaded and/or overwhelmed
- Frequent crying spells or suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of loneliness or worthlessness
- Little interest in appearance or punctuality
- Nervous habits like fidgeting, feet tapping
- Increase in frustration, irritability & edginess
- Overreaction to petty annoyances
We can see clearly how stress can reach into every part of our life, but it’s not all doom and gloom! Just because stress is inevitable, doesn’t mean we have allow ourselves to succumb to the negative symptoms of it.
‘Stressed spelled backwards is desserts!’
Taking our cue from the above quote demonstrates that by treating stress as an opportunity, rather than a threat, we can change our mindset and meet the challenge head on, which will contribute to our growth and development – instead of panicking and succumbing to the stress… every cloud and all that!
Instead, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction can help us turn our times of struggle into opportunities for positive change – turning our stressed into desserts.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a group programme which was originally developed in the 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn to help treat patients struggling with life’s difficulties and physical and/or mental illness. Taking the traditional Buddhist principles of mindfulness and meditation, he developed a more modern, flexible and scientific-based approach to reducing stress and viewed mindfulness as an activity which every human has the capability of practising. There are virtually no barriers to the practice of mindfulness or yoga – it is accessible for all.
The Dharma of Modern Mindfulness: Discovering the Buddhist Teachings at the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – this book follows the structure of an eight-week MBSR class with real-life examples, guided reflections and practices and explains the connections between the ancient wisdom of Buddhism and contemporary MBSR
Since the ’70’s, mindfulness-based stress reduction has been used by a wide range of people from all parts of life. MBSR has a flexible approach to stress reduction, with mindfulness being practised in the best way to suit the individual, but it is based on the same set of principles, some of which are; making the experience challenging and turning the mindful observing of our life into an adventure in living, rather than one more thing that ‘has’ to be done; emphasising the importance of individual effort and motivation and regular disciplined meditation; the immediate lifestyle change necessary for formal mindfulness practise, as it requires a significant time commitment; and the importance of making each moment count by consciously bringing it into awareness during practise into the present moment.
When Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is used in conjunction with existing medical and/or psychological treatments, it has been shown to greatly enhance the treatment results for:
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Cancer and chronic illness
- Eating disorders
- Gastro-intestinal distress
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Skin disorders
- Sleep problems
- Work, family & financial stress
With help for all these it would make sense to give MBSR a try, particularly as it doesn’t require an enormous amount of time, energy or resources. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction has two parts – Mindfulness meditation and Yoga – and some of the techniques are as below:
- Focus Mindfulness – we should focus on looking inward to observe what is happening in our mind, in the manner of an ‘eyes on the road’ experience. To keep our focus, we can use our breath to keep us grounded in the moment
- Awareness Mindfulness – we practise awareness of the external instead of the internal. Awareness focuses on the mind, but from an outside perspective, as if our mental activity belonged to someone else. Awareness mindfulness is looking at our thoughts and feelings from outside of our usual self-centred experience and observing our mind as a stream of consciousness without judgment. An example of a simple awareness exercise is: Start by taking a few gentle deep breaths and turning our mind inwards by focusing on our breath. Now take our mind outwards, seeing our thoughts, feelings, moods and sensations floating as objects down a stream – watching without judgment. Take one of the objects and focus on it, letting the other sensations and thoughts go by. Notice any new thoughts or feelings that appear from observing this object and sit with these for a moment. Then when ready, simply drop the object into the stream and watch it float
- Breathing Mindfulness – read all about mindfulness breathing on this page, where it is fully explained.
- Body Scan – read more about relaxation techniques here, but a brief example would see us lying flat on the floor or bed, with our eyes closed, moving our awareness through our body, focusing on one area at a time. Stop when any area is tight or sore and focus our breath on this area until it relaxes – it may help to visualise a ball of white light melting into the sore spot to aid the healing.
- Object Meditation – hold an object that is special or interesting, focusing all the senses on it and notice what our senses feed back to us, including its shape, size, colour, texture, smell, taste, or sounds it makes.
- Mindful Eating – this exercise can also include all of our senses whilst we focus on the food. Eat slowly, noticing the smell, taste and feel of the food. Full information about mindful eating can be found on this page.
- Walking meditation – take a leisurely walk, observing how we walk and noticing the sensations in our body as we walk – how our shoulders feel, our feet as they meet the ground and the swing of our hips. Try to match the breathing to our footsteps
- Mindful Stretching – this can be practised with any set of stretches, but yoga will provide a more guided practice. See below and here.
- Worry or Urge ‘Surfing’ – we should learn to view our thoughts and feelings as ‘surfing’ on a wave. Imagine the negative emotion coming at us like a wave getting bigger as it approaches, cresting
as it reaches us and finally falling away. Imagine ‘riding’ that wave as it passes, letting the negative emotion go with it. Celebrate the ability to let the emotion go and recognise that more may follow occasionally, remembering to ‘surf the wave’ again when they do.
- Yoga – many studies have shown the benefits of practising yoga for everyone – young and old – and is an excellent way to reduce stress and practise mindfulness. It can help enhance levels of calmness, comfort and cheerfulness, as well as quality of sleep.
These are just a few techniques for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. When we are suffering stress, it can feel overwhelming at times and while there are many ways to deal with this stress, mindfulness can give extra benefits. It can not only address current stress, but it can also help us fight against future stress, create a deep and lasting sense of peace, and even improve our blood pressure and heart rate. What’s the harm in giving it a go? There’s nothing to lose and a lot to gain!
A Mindfulness – Based Stress Reduction Workbook – A great workbook that teaches MBSR, showing us how to focus on the present moment to help us change the way we handle stress. Whilst working through the book, we learn how to replace stress-promoting habits with mindful ones.
MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction – this practical guide explains many ways to overcome stress, working well as a stand-alone, but it can also be used alongside a MBSR workbook. Want to learn to change how you handle stress, gain powerful inspiration and live more fully in the moment? Then this is the perfect guide for you!