Over the past several months, there has been a growing buzz about Mindfulness and its role in health and wellness, particularly in reducing stress and anxiety. Publications such as Time Magazine, Harvard Health Publishing, and Psychology Today have all focused on the topic of Mindfulness.
“What is Mindfulness?” you ask. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you carefully observe your thoughts and feelings, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, the practice of mindfulness allows you to live in the moment while fully experiencing your current “now”, rather than dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Meditation is closely aligned with Mindfulness.
UMass Medical School Creates a First
In December 2017, UMass Medical School announced that they had created the first Division of Mindfulness. Why is this noteworthy? The annual U.S. News & World Report rankings of top graduate schools names UMass Medical School the best for primary care education in all of New England, and, in the top 10 percent nationwide in primary care. It is the first medical school division dedicated to studying the impact of meditation and mindfulness on health care and outcomes.
At UMass Medical, Mindfulness is an active area of research, with many studies focusing on the structural and functional changes in the brain due to mindfulness meditation; as well, research is underway regarding the decrease in psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression and a greater stability in physical symptoms such as blood glucose levels and blood pressure.
Health Benefits of Mindfulness
Along with medical and psychological treatments, Mindfulness has been proven to be effective in helping to treat people who suffer from many challenges, including:
- Chronic pain
- Anxiety & depression
- Cancer & chronic disease
- Work, family, and emotional stress
- Eating disturbances
- Heart disease
What is Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)?
MBSR is a program that helps you learn to calm your mind and body in order to help you cope with illness, pain, and stress. MBSR teaches you to focus only on things happening in the present moment. Mindfulness is not a time to “zone out” or “space out”; rather, it is a time to purposefully pay attention and be aware of your surroundings, your emotions, your thoughts, and how your body feels. For example, you may sit quietly and notice your emotions. You might focus only on the sounds around you or how your food tastes and smells. When you are mindful, you do just one thing and you pay close attention to that one thing.
Common Benefits of MBSR Decreased Stress
- Increased immune function
- Lowered blood pressure
- Lowered heart rate
- Increased awareness
- Increased attention and focus
- Increased clarity in thinking and perception
- Lowered anxiety levels
- Experience of being calm and internally still
- Experience of feeling connected
UMass Medical may have been the first to formalize Mindfulness for patient care, but they are not alone. The Stanford Medicine WellMD Center was created in late 2015 with 5-year funding provided jointly by the School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care, and Stanford Children’s Health. Its Mission Statement reads: “To improve the health and professional fulfillment of physicians and the associated health of their patients, their students, and other members of the medical teams they lead.”
In an interview with Professor Robert Cowan, Stanford University Medicine, he states; “Medicines are good, but you don’t have to do what we do for very long to realize medicine alone does not heal. Mindfulness, as well as biofeedback, counseling, arts like Tai Chi and Yoga, are essential to move from the sick state to health.”
Does your hospital or organization offer Mindfulness tools and resources to patients and/or employees? Do you believe Mindfulness will continue to grow in popularity within the medical field? Please share your feedback and perspective. Thanks!