Why is Everyone Talking about Mindfulness?
Stacey J. Drubner, JD, LICSW, MPH
EAP “Ask the Expert” – Darshan Mehta, MD, MPH, Mind Body Medicine Expert at MGB
If any of the following statements reflect your reaction to the idea of mindfulness, then you have clicked on the right article:
1. I don’t even understand what it means
2. I don’t think it makes a difference
3. I don’t want to meditate
4. I don’t have time for mindfulness
If any of the following statements reflect your experience, then you have also clicked on the right article:
1. I have trouble managing stress
2. It’s hard for me to unwind or relax
3. I am not able to enjoy the things I am doing because I am thinking about what happened yesterday or what might happen tomorrow
The term “mindfulness” seems to be popping up everywhere. Many are asking “what is it and why is it being discussed now?” If you are confused, you are not alone.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field of mindfulness and meditation, defined mindfulness as, “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
Mindfulness has become practiced more widely over the last several years and was discussed frequently during the Pandemic. This is because many people were faced with increased physical and emotional stress. A growing body of research has indicated that cultivating mindfulness can positively impact physical and mental health outcomes. Some potential benefits include improvement in the following areas:
• Physical health (hyper-tension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, pain)
• Mental health (anxiety and depression)
• Stress management
• Sleep quality
• Cognitive functioning
• Ability to regulate emotions
• Relationship health
Research on mindfulness is broad-based and results vary based on activity and population. Some of the many studies are summarized here:
• MGH Research Institute
• The American Psychological Association
• Science Daily
• National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Spotlight: Darshan Mehta, MD, MPH,
Medical Director, Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine, Director, Office for Well-Being, Center for Faculty Development (MGH) & Education Director, Osher Center for Integrative Medicine (BWH)
The EAP was fortunate to consult with Darshan Mehta, an internist and specialist in complementary and integrative medicine, for help with understanding mindfulness and finding a practice that fits. Darshan describes mindfulness as a state of non-judgmental, present moment awareness. He considers it a mindset, rather than a technique. Over time, mindfulness becomes part of how you automatically navigate the world and helps to counteract the negative effects of the stress response. In other words, when something in the world represents a challenging emotional trigger, the cumulative and in-the-moment practice of mindfulness can limit the negative reaction you might otherwise experience.
Getting Started with Mindfulness
There are many ways to practice mindfulness. The important thing is to explore and pick the one(s) that appeal to you. This may be a trial-and-error process. It takes time to figure out what works.
Activities supporting mindfulness
• Yoga for Beginners
• Tai Chi
• Breathing Techniques
• Being Mindful in your Everyday Life
Just the act of being “present” matters. Completely focusing on who you are with or what you are doing can impact your experience and feelings of contentment. Darshan recommends focusing on the details of what you are doing (e.g. notice the bristles of your toothbrush or drops of water when you shower).
• In-the-moment grounding exercises
– Five fingers breathing
Choose the Platform(s) that works for you
• In-person group class
• One-on-one instruction. Sometimes beginners can benefit from coaching.
–MGB EAP Website – Mindfulness & Meditation apps
Maintaining a Mindfulness Practice
• Identify what is realistic and sustainable for you.
• Practice regularly so that it becomes part of your routine.
• Check in to see if you are genuinely focusing on family or friends with whom you are interacting.
• Consider a paradigm in which mindfulness flows into each part of your life, rather than viewing yourself as having distinct compartments for mindfulness and other parts of your life.
• Set reminders or find a cue (e.g., when you log onto EPIC). The reminder can be tied to something that is a trigger for stress or just a regular or repetitive event in your schedule.
• If you are short on time or intimidated by formal meditation, you can try micro-meditations, such as the exercises (5-4-3-2-1 or Five fingers breathing) referenced above. Even doing something quickly, 50 times a week, can be beneficial.
Darshan recommends developing “a mindfulness memory.” Using the metaphor of a memory-foam
mattress, the idea is to have a resilient but flexible foundation that molds to your needs and remembers effective internal reactions to stress. This memory is built through the regular practice of mindfulness.
Mindfulness and Healthcare Workers
Mindfulness can help with job performance. As a Chicago native, Darshan discussed how athletes, and in particular, the Chicago Bulls, tied their success to the practice of mindfulness. Even current Boston Red Sox players, JD Martinez and Raphael Devers are using breathing to improve focus and batting average.
Healthcare workers can also improve job performance by incorporating mindfulness. Whether we are clinical providers or fill other important contributing roles at Mass General Brigham, we all want to do our part to improve patient care. This is not always easy, because we are all the recipients of second-hand stress, related to patient suffering and at times, difficult interactions. Being more mindful can:
Minimize the impact of work and absorbing the pain and suffering of others
• Mindfulness can provide a mechanism to cope with stress and burnout.
Improve communications with patients and families
• The most common visit feedback is that patients and their loved ones do not feel heard.
• This leads to poor communication, distrust, poor-quality outcomes and even litigation.
• Patients may also be less be compliant with treatment plans and care recommendations.
Measuring Success with Mindfulness
The practice of mindfulness is fluid and exists on a continuum. It is not something that reaches a measurable point of “you are now perfectly mindful”. It takes practice and tweaking. We can’t eliminate life challenges, but we can make it easier to “weather the storm”. When you are in a place in which you can better deal with stress, then it is a sign that your practice is working.
About the Benson Henry Institute and The Osher Center
• The Benson Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at MGH aims to fully integrate mind body medicine into mainstream healthcare.
• The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, a collaboration between Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, focuses on enhancing human health, resilience and quality of life through translational research, clinical practice and education in integrative medicine.
If you perceive yourself as not the type to meditate, you might find this Yahoo Finance interview with former ABC news anchor, Dan Harris informative. He was not a person who ever considered meditation but became a convert when faced with severe anxiety, resulting from his work.
MGB Mindfulness Offerings
• Meditation Mondays (Zoom) with Dr. Darshan Mehta: Every week, 8-8:30 AM.
These sessions are co-sponsored by the MGH Center for Faculty Development’s Office for Well-Being and the MGPO Frigoletto Committee. Register and add to calendar
• Benson-Henry Institute – Guided Relaxation Exercises
• EAP Webinars – Success with Stress Webinars (Yoga, Meditation)
• Mass General Brigham Well-being Resources
• Darshan kindly recorded a guided meditation especially for this article. Feel free to use this video as part of your mindfulness routine:
Help from the EAP
The Mass General Brigham EAP is available to help with concerns about yourself or someone you care about. The program offers free and confidential services for employees and immediate-family household members. EAP records are separate from medical and HR records. Contact the EAP at 866-724-4327, or request an appointment via our online form for confidential assistance.