The holiday season is upon us, and for many of us this means additional worry.
Stress seems to have become a constant in our daily lives, but there is some good news: mindfulness can help.
One Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to observe nurse practitioner Eleana Conway lead a small group on the essentials of mindfulness.
During the first exercise, participants were instructed to ‘notice the room’, a nondescript conference space at Lahey Health’s Unicorn Park office in Woburn, Mass. In the room there are stacked office chairs, a wall clock ticking down the minutes, a speaking pedestal at one end — nothing out of the ordinary. When asked, most participants were able to recall an impressive inventory of these items.
Next, Conway asked the group to close their eyes and complete the same exercise. It was astounding how participants’ awareness shifted to the temperature, sounds and calm feel to the space.
This group is part of an eight-week Stress Management course offered by Lahey Health. The course is open to all patients with a Lahey Health Primary Care Provider and Lahey Health colleagues.
There’s no denying we live in a chaotic, 24-7 world. There are children to pick up, bills to pay, doctor’s appointments, and let’s not even mention everything on the news. There’s constant movement, and we are bombarded with information resulting in high stress levels.
“Our ‘fight or flight’ system in our brains is primed and ready to go which is perfect when we are faced with survival situations, but when we routinely operate and make decisions from this space, often the problem is that we cannot turn off stress reactions,” Conway told the class.
Mindfulness is a practice that has become popular in the last few years — websites, apps, over-night retreats in luxurious locations and a plethora of books have been written on the subject.
The Lahey course is based on the model of mindfulness established by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. A central premise of the course is the awareness that arises from paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgmental way.
There are many benefits of mindfulness that experts tout — improved wellbeing and mental health, as well as stress reduction.
Conway’s class delves into several techniques to increase mindfulness, the most impactful being a person’s breathing. An entire class is devoted to breath-work.
“Breath is the one power we have over the entire body,” Conway said. “It is a switch that turns off our fight or flight reaction and allows us to pause and respond in a skillful and mindful way.”
If you’d like to learn more about Lahey’s Stress Management Training, please see the course website.