On Sunday January 9th, the Los Angeles Times ran an article describing the increase use of mindfulness therapy. The article asked the question; is mindfulness another psychological fad, or is there something substantial to it that actually helps calm anxieties and improve mood? Since I have meditated for close to twenty years, and often recommend simple breathing mediation to my clients to reduce stress and overcome anxiety, I read the article with focused interest.
Mindfulness meditation teaches us to focus attention on our breath and to observe our sensations, emotions, and thoughts. While acknowledging sensations, emotions, and thoughts, we actively resist the temptation of becoming preoccupied with any of them. We take the position of an observer and watch our thoughts. In fact, when I first learned this meditation many years ago, the teacher described it as the observer meditation. Take the position of an observer and simply watch the thoughts.
In the Time’s article, Stefan Hofmann, a psychology professor at Boston’s University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders states his initial skepticism but Hofmann and his colleagues collected 39 studies involving 1,140 patients that conclude that mindfulness therapy is effective for relieving anxiety and improving mood. The treatment seems an effective way to ease the mental stress of those recovering from cancer and other serious illness but people with mood disorders including general anxiety disorder seem to benefit the most.
Jordan Elliott once suffered from disabling anxiety. At first, he was skeptical about mindfulness therapy and he did not feel particularly mindful. He could barely sit still for three minutes. Now he starts his day with a mere 10-minute meditation. “When a negative thought pops off in my head, I say to myself, ‘There’s a thought. And feelings aren’t facts.’” Elliott was taking Prozac prior to his mindfulness training, but no says he no longer needs it.
David Fresco, an associate professor at Kent State University, acknowledges that people can improve their health if they can encourage the practice. However, he states that there are limits and someone suffering from severe and ongoing depression may need active interventions including the use of antidepressants. Nonetheless, Zindel Segal, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, published a study indicating that mindfulness training was as effective as antidepressants at preventing relapses of depression. Although, Segal also admits there are limitations. For example, if you are in the midst of a panic attack in your local mall, mindfulness by itself, may not be enough but there is sufficient evidence to indicate that mindfulness changes one’s relationship with their emotions. So much so, that shifts in brain activity show up on MRI tests. “Thoughts have a less intense grip because you are an observer,” states Segal.
Mindfulness training is a wonderful adjunct to hypnotherapy particularly in dealing with stress and anxiety. I have been both practicing and teaching mindfulness to others for years and in my next post, I will describe a simple breathing meditation. In the meantime, if you would like to learn mindfulness or other techniques to overcome stress and anxiety, give call me at (805) 637-4263 or email me to arrange for a free consultation.