Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue


Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

posted by Beyond Blue

mindfulness-based stress reduction.jpg
About once a year I discover a workbook that allows me to put all the steps that I learn in therapy into practice. I’ve mentioned in past blogs David Burns’s “10 Days to Self-Esteem,” and how the exercises in that workbook allowed me to recognize distorted thought patterns and practice ways of untwisting them. Two years or so ago, when I didn’t know whether or not I should have my son treated for anxiety, my therapist recommended I read “Understanding Your Child’s Puzzling Behavior,” which was very, very helpful. And now fellow blogger and mindfulness expert Elisha Goldstein has published, with co-author Bob Stahl, a comprehensive workbook–“A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook”– that teaches the art of mindfulness in relieving and reducing stress.

 

If I had to identify one quality that separates this book from the rest of the mindfulness resources in the self-help aisle, it’s that these pages are so practical and can’t help but provide the reader with plenty of “Aha!” moments. Reading through the chapters and exercises, I appreciate all the research that Goldstein and Stahl studied, material that illuminates how mindfulness exercises can alter and help shape your brain to be more optimistic and resilient. But what won my trust is that they have both been stress cases themselves at certain points in their lives, and can therefore communicate with empathetic language. They both know, on a very personal level, how stress can disable a person. Much like Kay Redfield Jamison, the famous psychologist who suffers from bipolar disorder, they speak both as expert and patient.

What, exactly, is mindfulness? Stahl and Goldstien write:

Mindfulness is about being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, without filters or the lens of judgment. It can be brought to any situation. Put simply, mindfulness consists of cultivating awareness of the mind and body and living in the here and now. While mindfulness as a practice is historically rooted in ancient Buddhist meditative disciplines, it’s also a universal practice that anyone can benefit from. And indeed, being present and mindful is an important concept in many spiritual traditions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Taoism.

Today mindfulness has expanded beyond its spiritual roots and even beyond psychology and mental and emotional well-being. Physicians are prescribing training in mindfulness practice to help people deal with stress, pain, and illness….In the words of Walpola Rahula, author of the Buddhist classic “What the Buddha Taught,” “[Mindfulness] is simply observing, watching, examining. You are not a judge but a scientist.”

I understand mindfulness as forcing a bit of time and space between a situation and your reaction, or recognizing the snowball of thoughts that’s forming in your mind before it becomes too overwhelming to sort through yourself. Goldstein and Stahl quote Vicktor Frankl, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

Although mindfulness techniques aren’t able to rescue me out of an acute, severe depression, if I diligently adhered to all the wisdom contained in Stahl and Goldstein’s book, and designated a time of the day to do all the exercises, I could save myself some considerable heartache and headache.

Why?

Their mindfulness exercises allow the reader to take some of the files off of her cluttered and disorganized desk because the files relate to the past or to the future, and the present tense is the only one she should worry about now. According to the authors, mindfulness is about sticking to the here and now and banishing all judgment. It’s also about breaking the job, day, or situation down … into small parts, in order to better manage it.

For example, in one of the first exercises, they suggest we list the stressful situation and rate it from a 1 (not very stressful) to a 10 (Help! I’ve fallen and can’t get up!). I started listing all the situations that bring me the most stress, most of which I assigned an 8:

  • Going through my email
  • Responding to requests for help (either with publishing or mental health)
  • Dealing with all my medical conditions
  • Eric’s work situation
  • Meeting work deadlines
  • Our healthcare situation and expenses
  • Temper tantrums
  • Doing homework with the kids
  • Getting household jobs done during the weekend
  • Putting the kids to bed

After I pinpointed which situations were producing the most stress, I felt a nice relief – that it’s not “my life is so stressful, I can’t take it!” but rather, “I have some stressful things going on in my life, let’s see if there are some solutions.” For example, erecting more boundaries on my email policy is probably needed. I should go back to checking emails only once or twice a day, designating a time of day, and sorting them into various categories in order of importance. Or maybe I can come up with some behavioral method that gives the kids incentive to complete their homework without my yelling bloody murder. These are modest revisions, but they could relieve a chunk of stress.

Goldstein and Stahl’s workbook uses a strong motivator for readers to learn the beneficial habit of mindfulness, and that is accountability. When you write things down and record your progress, you become accountable. Maybe that’s why my kids hate homework so much, come to think of it. So what they have done for us is set up a system by which we can challenge ourselves to better integrate our body, mind, and soul. Or at least that’s the plan.

I recommend this workbook to anyone who is stressed out … um … everyone I know.

Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.



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Comments read comments(40)
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Janette

posted March 10, 2010 at 10:38 am


I tried to take part in an MBSR workshop but there was a disclaimer that said that if one is suffering from deep depression or suicidal thoughts that it would be better not to take the course.
Therese acknowledges this in the article by saying: “Although mindfulness techniques aren’t able to rescue me out of an acute, severe depression”.
My question is that if this helps in depression anxiety … etc. through awareness how can it also say that it cannot help someone with deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Then is this program only helpful for mildly depressed people? Where does it leave the rest of us?



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Meghan

posted March 10, 2010 at 11:31 am


Mindfulness is great technique for those who experience severe depression and/or anxiety and are in a maintenance phase, or for those who perhaps have mild to moderate forms of these disorders.
It’s not that it CAN’T help those with severe depression/anxiety, it’s that mindfulness isn’t as effective (or isn’t effective at all) for those in that state. When you’re so disorganized in your thinking it can be simply impossible to practice these techniques.
The benefit for those with severe depression is in maintenance and relapse prevention. I use mindfulness in this way. I practice some things on a regular basis, and when some of my relapse signatures start to surface I incorporate mindfulness in a more focused approach. This has served me well.
Hope this helps a bit. I’m a big fan of both Therese and Dr Goldstein’s blogs and I find that they complement each other well.



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Janette

posted March 10, 2010 at 5:17 pm


I kind of understand why it wouldn’t be very good for someone with severe depression or having suicidal thoughts. For me I find it difficult because it would be extremely scary and painful to be aware of such severe thoughts. So the question comes down to whether to eventually accept these thoughts and sit with them and if that is the case does one accept a suicidal thought and sit with it? How does that look like?



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Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

posted March 10, 2010 at 10:36 pm


These are excellent questions and feedback.
It may be helpful to check out an interview Therese and I did a while back right here: http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue/2009/04/mindful-monday-an-interview-wi.html
Continue to stay connected, that is often the greatest source of healing,
Elisha



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Jill

posted March 11, 2010 at 9:03 am


Wow this was a really great post, I’ll definitely check out the book on Amazon and the link to your interview. :)



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Bob Stahl

posted March 11, 2010 at 10:51 am


As a long time MBSR teacher (19 years). I have never not allowed a person with depression and thoughts of suicide to come to my class. What I have done though is make sure that they are in therapy and have the consent of their health provider that it is ok for them to attend and that it is not contraindicated with their treatment.
My experience is that many benefit. Nothing like being seen and appreciated as a human being. There is such a great hunger in the world to love and be loved. MBSR provides a sacred space where people can be real. Where each of our pains is honored and that we can begin to work with them as practice and open our hearts to greater self-compassion and insight into what is fueling and driving our behaviors… This can lead to greater freedom through our understanding and reconciliations
May we all discover the gateways into our hearts.
Bob



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Wildstar

posted March 11, 2010 at 11:55 am


This was a great article! It has helped me focus in on some things that absolutely cripple me at times. Like what I call “looping thoughts”, the ones that run around and around inside my mind and seem trapped there. Most often it will start as a small seed of a thought. It could start as an offense that I experienced from someone. Then it grows and I start imagining what they will hurl at me next. Before you know it, a full blown argument has taken place in my mind that will NEVER happen! This article on mindfulness has helped in that I can just STOP the process and examine it and see what is really happening, thus giving me the ability to dispel it completely. I am hoping to retrain my brain into better thought patterns that will be more positive and less negative. Thanks a bunch, Therese!!



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Nancy

posted April 28, 2010 at 1:25 pm


Wonderful :) Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment without judgment. Mindfulness helps you relate directly to whatever is happening in your life, including the challenges of stress, pain, illness, and the everyday demands of deadlines and assignments. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is a more integrated approach to cultivating mindfulness. MBSR programs emphasize sitting and walking meditation and yoga. MBSR programs have the goal of helping individuals develop lifelong skills for dealing with emotional and physical stress and improving overall well-being. http://www.astonishinglifestyle.com



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Keira

posted June 7, 2010 at 9:53 am


Hi There , thank you so much for writing this article it clearly came from the heart and your own experiences gave it an empathetic rather than a preaching perspective.
I just wanted to share a little of my own experience someone who used to be a practising Buddhist.
Mindfulness is a wonderful tool for staying in the moment and not letting worries of the future plague you. When one first starts practising it though it can be like giving your mind and soul a cleanse and a lot of ‘ dirt ‘ may need come to the surface e.g old hurts and fears. This was certainly true in my case.
I would encourage anyone practising Mindfulness not to be alarmed when this happens but if necessary to seek professional help.
Thank you Therese for highlighting this wonderful tool. Your kindness shines through.



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Bing mindful is very much as you describe – about stepping back and almost observing our part in things and then deciding what action to choose – rather than letting our habits and conditioned responses to overtake. I think that’s where so much of our stress comes from – as ultimately those conditioned responses are not aligned with our true spirit, but with our experiences we have had thus far.



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