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What is Mindfulness and it's effects on stress? A personal perspective.

Throughout my own personal journey through the world of therapy I have found myself being constantly drawn to helping people manage their battle with stress . Behind every personal story of the people I meet and talk to lie difficulties with coping with some element of their lives due to; fear, anxiety or stress. Yes it's true most of us need a small amount of stress in order to motivate us to achieve sometimes; to go to that interview to make that speech. However; if your heart is racing, you have stomach cramps, a migraine coming on and you have persuaded yourself you ‘just can't do this' (just some of the symptoms) then the systems in your body that are meant to help with your motivation levels have gone into overdrive and this is simply not a healthy way to live.

On a personal note, I talk from experience regarding suffering from of stress, hence my desire to specialise and work with people living with the same life debilitating symptoms. I do know what it's like to worry you are going to be late for an appointment because once again you are stuck on the loo, to sit in your car feeling nauseous before stepping into work and putting on that face, or frozen with fear and lack of confidence before an interview. My search therefore has not only been about studying effective methods of therapy, but about those I have found to work on myself in a very beneficial way.

Living in the present. I strongly believe that one of the keys to managing stress levels is to learn how to live more fully in the present. So many people spend a great deal of time and energy dwelling on the past and projecting into, and worrying about the future. The actual truth is you can only live in the here and now. This has been my dawning truth for some while now, and though it may seem a blindingly obvious statement to make, it is incredibly difficult to learn to live fully in the present. I suggest you take a pause at this moment and truly look around your current environment; just take a minute to notice the chair your sitting on, is it truly comfortable?, Can you see from a window,? What can you see? How does your body feel at the moment? Do you feel contented, slightly disheartened? What sounds can you hear, the whir of your computer? Just taking this moment of reflection helps you to begin a process of paying attention fully to the present and beginning to inhabit it in a meaningful way.

Which leads me to Mindful Based Stress Reduction. Mindful Based Stress Reduction(MBSR) is a form of self awareness drawn from Buddhist meditation techniques and teaches the individual to be more fully aware and present in each moment. It was developed by Jon Kabat –Zinn who has done extensive work in a clinical setting treating people with chronic pain and stress related disorders.

In his own words:

‘Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgementally'
Jon Kabat Zinn, Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life.

But what is Mindfulness? My own very personal journey involved attending an 8 week course with Michael Chaskalson and, during that time as a therapist I was able learn a range helpful of techniques as well as reinforce my own personal beliefs and knowledge. Mindfulness is not a quick fix, it takes time and personal effort to learn the methodology as well as a great deal of personal exploration, but let me assure you the benefits are real. Over a period of time you realise that you looking at potential difficulties and events in your life with a new potentially more realistic perspective and with an inner sense of calm.

Mindfulness, essentially uses a variety of non secular meditation techniques, of varying lengths and complexity; from a full body scan meditation to a short exercise that can be learned and used in times of potential stress. Again anyone who has experience of meditation will tell you that learning to quiet your chattering mind is not easy and takes time to even halfway master. Interestingly research into Mindfulness and meditation has been revealing significant changes in brain activity. It is reported that meditation helps to balance your levels of Dopamine (the neurotransmitter affecting your levels of motivation) and Oxytocin (the hormone involved in promoting feelings of comfort and love).

However to say that Mindfulness is just another method of meditation is just too simplistic, it draws together many other philosophies and techniques. Mindfulness also uses elements of Cognitive Behavioural therapy in that as a process of self exploration you are asked to look at your own belief system, you're Negative Automatic Thoughts and in doing so to challenge the way you think and act in some situations. Mindfulness gives you an insight into the way your body reacts to stress, to understand the physical, behavioural and psychological processes and to recognise them in yourself. Physical exercise is also another essential element, with short simple Pilates based movements, recommended for daily practise.

With practice Mindfulness enables you as an individual to accept and manage moments of stress with a completely new perspective, teaching you how to acknowledge and work through your negative thoughts, feelings and senses
If you need convincing of the worth of Mindfulness then look no further than the NHS, who have incorporated Mindfulness training as part of their Cognitive Behavioural approach to therapy and work with ongoing depression and stress related difficulties.

‘You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf' .
Jon Kabat Zinn, Mindfulness Meditation for Everyday Life.

Michelle Krethlow Shaw
January 2012

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© 2012 Michelle Krethlow Shaw