meditation for stress

What can mindfulness teach the police force?

Rachel Pugh, The Guardian: As two young constables dash into the room of silently seated police men and women, making breathless apologies, one of them asks: “Have you started yet? We’ve been out on an eviction but we didn’t want to miss the meditation.”

This is lunchtime in inner-city Salford’s fortress-style Pendleton police station, and the man with a pair of Tibetan chimes facing the group is neighbourhood police officer, PC Ewen Sim, poised to deliver a session of mindfulness.

The bearded 39-year-old is one of 13 Greater Manchester police (GMP) officers …

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Practicing mindfulness can help relieve anxiety among children, youth and adults

Karen Pace, Michigan State University Extension: Do you experience feelings of anxiety? If so, how does it tend to express itself in your mind and body? Does your thinking become rapid and spinning—or do you have difficulty concentrating? Do you notice muscle tension in your neck, shoulders or another part of your body? Do you feel fatigued, restless or “keyed up”? Do you have difficulty breathing or experience shortness of breath? Do you feel irritable—or do you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep? These are all …

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Mindfulness for lawyers: expectations vs. reality

Jeena Cho, Above the Law: I teach a lot of workshops on incorporating mindfulness into everyday life, both in and out of law practice. Often, the lawyers in the room have very idealistic expectations about what meditation will do for them and how their minds will behave during meditation.

The lawyers expect to “ace” meditation on the first try. They think during meditation, their mind will be completely free of thoughts and they’ll experience instant-stress-free-state on demand. This would be akin to having a model-like body after going to the gym once. Meditation practice, much like law practice …

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Meditation was the most unexpected tool in my addiction recovery

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Britni de la Cretaz, SheKnows: When I arrived at rehab for my alcohol and cocaine addiction, one of the first things I was handed was a schedule with the day’s activities on it. It included groups and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings I would need to attend, as well as meal times — all the usual things you’d expect to find on a daily rehab schedule.

But I was a little taken aback to see that the first thing on the agenda every morning — from 8 to 8:10 — was meditation. The idea of having to meditate for 10 minutes every day was baffling to me. I immediately chalked it up to hooey or some woo-woo crap.

I skipped as many mornings as I could. When I did participate, I did anything but focus on my breath for the 10 minutes. How could I? My brain had too many other things to think about, and I was pretty sure those things were far more interesting and important than sitting quietly and counting in breaths and out breaths.

I thought about how stupid it was that I had to sit quietly for 10 minutes. I thought about how badly I wanted to peek at the clock so I could see how much time I had left. I thought about how I would probably most definitely drink again when I left treatment. I thought about the fact that I absolutely would not move into a sober house after rehab. And maybe once, maybe twice, over the course of those 10 minutes, I’d focus on my breathing.

While I was sitting there thinking about all the things that were much more interesting and important than meditation, something funny happened. Progressively, I had fewer and fewer thoughts that seemed all that important. Slowly, my brain began to quiet. Instead of focusing on one or two breaths over the course of the 10 minutes, I found myself coming back to that breath every 30 seconds or so. Four months later, when it was time to leave treatment, meditation had become like a sigh of relief for my brain. It became something I looked forward to every morning instead of something I dreaded.

Meditation, it turned out, was something I could carry with me into my day. When I first arrived at rehab, my mind was always racing. It jumped ahead to three Thursdays from now. It played an endless stream of what-ifs. That, in turn, caused a great deal of anxiety because I can’t control the future. I don’t know what will happen in an hour, let alone tomorrow or next week. Inevitably, that stress and uncertainty led to me to pick up alcohol and drugs to quiet my mind.

Meditation gave me the ability to stay present, to find the here and now. It taught me how not to get ahead of myself. To sit with my emotions and my discomfort instead of running from them or numbing them with substances. By learning to sit through uncomfortable feelings, I also got to learn that those feelings — all feelings, in fact, both good and bad — would pass. Candice Rasa, clinical director of Beach House Center for Recovery, says that my experience is a common one.

“During meditation, you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress,” Rasa explains. “This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being.” For me, that looked like an overall calmness and a decrease in my anxiety levels. I also began to explore different kinds of meditation — guided meditations using phone apps, practicing yoga, and repeating a mantra over and over again. Each of these forms of meditation provided something different.

Yoga allowed me to connect my meditation practice to my physical body. As a trauma survivor who often drank and used drugs to cope with my post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, I wasn’t used to feeling present in my body. Yoga and progressive muscle relaxation — a form of meditation where you systematically relax every muscle in your body — helped me learn to be present in my body again and to really feel it.

Rasa says that this benefit of meditation, of keeping people in the present, is very important for those of us who are recovering from addiction because “it allows for greater self-awareness… and reduces negative emotions, which leads to [fewer] destructive behaviors, such as picking up drugs and alcohol.”

The most helpful thing anyone ever told me is something that Rasa stresses, too: There is no wrong way to meditate. During those first few weeks when I was thinking about anything other than my breathing, someone told me that if I had focused on my breath even once during those 10 minutes, then I had meditated. Meditation, like anything else, is a practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it.

Ultimately, meditation became just one of many tools that I use in my recovery. It’s something that I can use at any time, in any place, and I can tailor it to my needs. It’s given me the ability to quiet my brain and find the time to just breathe, which helps bring me back to center — and makes it less likely that I’ll need drugs or alcohol to cope with how I’m feeling. And that, truly, is a gift.

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How a mindfulness-based approach can treat social anxiety disorder

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Jeena Cho, Forbes: In social settings involving other people, such as the first day of school, giving a presentation in front of coworkers or joining a new social group, it’s common for people to feel a little nervous or anxious. Usually, those feelings dissipate as you grow comfortable with the people you’re with or the setting in general.

But if the thought of being in social settings makes you feel overwhelmingly stressed, uncomfortable or even stops you from participating at all, you might have social anxiety disorder.

What Is Social Anxiety Disorder?

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is defined as “a fear of social situations in which embarrassment may occur or there is a risk of being negatively evaluated by others,” according to the American Psychology Association (APA). Also referred to as social phobia, the condition is characterized by the constant fear of one or more social situations in which a person thinks they will say or do something to humiliate themselves. About 7% percent of people in the U.S.—15 million adults—are affected by social anxiety disorder[1].

Essentially, it’s anxiety about what other people think, says Angela Neal-Barnett, a psychologist and director of Kent State University’s Program for Research on Anxiety Disorders among African Americans. “Social anxiety can occur because we believe that when we are with or in front of other people, they will think negatively about us,” says Neal-Barnett.

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How mindfulness reduces stress and improves health

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Heather Goldstone, WCAI: In 1971, Jon Kabat-Zinn finished his Ph.D. in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate, Salvador Luria, at M.I.T. Then, he took what might be considered a left turn – he went to study with Buddhist masters. Several years later, he drew on both his training in both biology and Buddhism when he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at U. Mass. Medical School and created the first course in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

“It seems like ‘wow, what a gigantic shift from molecular biology to Buddhist meditative practices,'” says Kabat-Zinn. “But it wasn’t so much of a shift for me because ever since I was very young, I was interested in consciousness, and how it evolved, and the biology of consciousness.”

Kabat-Zinn says he’d gone into biology to try to answer some of those questions, and that meditation offered another way to study oneself and explore what fundamentally makes us human.

Of course, in the 1970’s, when Kabat-Zinn began his work, there were no scientific studies about mindfulness. He credits his M.I.T. credentials with convincing colleagues to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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“Of course, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I was feeling my way with that intuition that came from just being young and wanting to understand things that nobody was looking at.”

Now, there are hundreds of increasingly rigorous studies showing that mindfulness training and the practice of meditation can produce measurable biological changes. Meditation changes the structure of the brain, enhancing regions responsible for learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, and perspective taking, while thinning areas involved in stress responses. In clinical trials, mindfulness training also appears to suppress inflammation pathways, boost cell-mediated immunity, and slow some aspects of biological aging.

Kabat-Zinn says that it’s important to realize that the science of mindfulness is “really, truly in its infancy.” While much of the research is “rigorous, out of very reputable labs, published in top-tier journals,” he acknowledges that some of the studies out there are not top of the line. And, he says, this is a complex subject that will take decades to work out.

“What people are trying to do is drill down to the mechanism,” he explains “Mindfulness seems to be beneficial on so many different levels, it’s like ‘how can that be?'”

As with anything that seems to good to be true, Kabat-Zinn says it’s important to question whether there are any potential risks from mindfulness meditation.

“The biggest negative effect, so to speak, would be that you run into mental states that you really don’t want to pay any attention to – like boredom, or anxiety or panic – because you’re going to be welcoming and embracing any state of mind and body to arise.”

While that may not be a good idea for some people, Kabat-Zinn says that the quality of the teacher can be important in determining the outcome of mindfulness training.

For himself, Kabat-Zinn says he’d still be practicing mindfulness – even if there were no science to back it up – simply because of the enhanced quality of life he experiences as a result.

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The wake-up call that transformed neuroscientist Richard Davidson’s life

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Rebecca Shapiro, Huffington Post: Richard Davidson had been studying the brain for more than a decade when he was asked a question that quite literally changed his life.

“Why have you been using the tools of modern neuroscience just to study anxiety and stress and fear and depression?” Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, asked the neuroscientist in 1992. “Why can’t you use those same tools to study kindness and compassion?”

The question, which Davidson described as “a total wake-up call,” caused him to refocus his research. One of the first ways his team studied kindness and compassion was by flying Buddhist monks from Tibet and Nepal to his lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

“What we found was remarkable,” Davidson said in a HuffPost Originals video. The brains of advanced Tibetan meditators were significantly different, both during meditation and after. “These differences reflect the enduring traces … and it gives us some clue that, in fact, the baseline state of these individuals is transformed as a consequence of their practice.”…

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Mindful leaders are effective leaders

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In June, the Director of the National Centre for Strategic Leadership, Nigel Girling, will be running a free webinar raising awareness about and talking through some approaches to mindful leadership. The following post was provided by the organizers of the webinar.

We live in a world of unprecedented pressure to be productive, complete tasks and stay in constant contact. For leaders, this can lead to a working environment that is fragmented by thousands of distractions and disparate demands. Attention spans are, unsurprisingly, becoming shorter as leaders struggle to find their way through this minefield.

It might all sound a bit hippy and New Age, but mindfulness might be just what leaders need at this point.

Many cultures have embraced this kind of thinking for centuries, but applying it to leadership and business, especially in the West, is rather more recent. There are five major aspects of effective leadership than can be developed through mindfulness.

Self-awareness

In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, it’s essential that leaders remain aware of how they are perceived by others. Being conscious of your own emotional and mental state, and of your behavior, is key to ensuring that you are the leader you want and need to be at all times.

The ability to see and experience yourself as others will is crucial in understanding the impact you have. It begins by being alert, listening to yourself, and observing the way you think, feel, speak and behave.

Presence in the moment

The modern leader needs to be able to experience situations clearly and without prejudice or emotional baggage. With so much complexity in every context, the ability to remain focused on the reality of a situation and the core purpose of any action is of significant benefit.
This is part of the wider topic of ‘critical thinking’. It could be as simple as paying attention to what is actually happening. People who multi-task often spend much of their time thinking about the thing they need to do next, or worrying about problems… mindfulness asks that you think about what is happening right now.

Resilience

Leaders are starting to recognize that their ability to withstand major trauma, bounce back from setbacks, and cope with pressure, all without becoming stressed, is a key factor influencing their capacity for providing engaging and confident leadership.

Stress is often the natural enemy of rational and considered behavior, and mindfulness can help a leader to treat setbacks and failures as learning experiences that can be analyzed to guide future action.

Compassion

Some traditional management thinking would have you believe that it is necessary to be tough and hard, demanding results and driving performance. In the 21st century, talented staff want a leader who is human and who understands that work-life balance is not just some wishy-washy fad, but a source of renewed commitment, engagement and enthusiasm.

The effective modern leader knows that their job is to enable their people to bring the best version of themselves to work, not just to squeeze them dry and discard them when they fall apart.

Gordon Gekko was a fictional character, just like Sir Alan Sugar or the Dragons. Leaders who really behaved that way would almost certainly find their best people jumping ship, and those that stayed being stressed, unwell and underperforming.

Calmness and rational thinking

In recent years, some excellent work has been done on developing our understanding of neuroscience, and the role of emotion in thinking patterns. Organizations like HeartMath have demonstrated the way emotional responses affect the ability to remain rational, and have shown just how important calmness is in sending out the right messages through deliberate, conscious behavior and unbiased decision-making.

In summary, mindfulness isn’t about finger-cymbals and chanting (not that there’s anything wrong with either of these), nor do you have to sit cross-legged in front of your guru… it’s just a hefty dollop of common-sense, applied to an area that is often rather short of it.

To find out how to harness the power of mindfulness to achieve these essential features of effective leadership, join the webinar.

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Three ways meditation improves relationships – backed by science

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Emma M. Seppälä, Psychology Today: Meditation can seem like a lonely activity, even a slightly selfish one —after all, you’re doing something, on your own, for yourself – or so it seems. Even if you’re meditating in a group, your eyes are closed and you’re focused on yourself. Doesn’t seem like something that would improve your relationships. But research shows it does. Here’s how.

1) It Curbs Your Stress & Gives You Perspective

Most people experience stress during the day. Worse yet, they bring their stress home. As a consequence, their partner gets the brunt of it: a short fuse, bad moods, lack of affection. Over time, this kind of pattern can create distance between partners. By helping you regulate your emotions (like stress or anger), meditation can help you keep a positive perspective. What we found in research with a population that has a tremendous amount of stress—veterans returning from war—is that by using a simple breathing-based meditation (sudarshan kriya), anxiety and stress reduced tremendously. If you can take responsibility for curbing your stress through meditation, you’re also taking a big step towards preserving and honoring your relationship.

A really strong reason to meditate is its impact on your perspective. You’re more likely to see the big picture rather than sweating the small stuff – as a result, you feel more grateful for what you. Gratitude is a powerful predictor of long-term love. Research shows us that, over time, we get used to the things we have and people we are with and can start to take them for granted. That’s the point where people may start to focus on what’s wrong with their partner or forget why they fell in love in the first place. Grateful people are more satisfied in their relationships and feel closer to one another. When you are grateful, you stay focused and appreciative of your partner’s good qualities. Your partner, in turn, feels appreciated, and your bond strengthens…

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How to practice mindfulness throughout your work day

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Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, Greater Good Science Center: You probably know the feeling all too well: You arrive at the office with a clear plan for the day and then, in what feels like just a moment, you find yourself on your way back home. Nine or ten hours have passed but you’ve accomplished only a few of your priorities. And, most likely, you can’t even remember exactly what you did all day. If this sounds familiar, don’t worry. You’re not alone. Research shows that people spend almost 47 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing. In other words, many of us operate on autopilot.

Add to this that we have entered what many people are calling the “attention economy.” In the attention economy, the ability to maintain focus and concentration is every bit as important as technical or management skills. And because leaders need to absorb and synthesize a growing flood of information in order to make good decisions, they’re hit particularly hard by this emerging trend.

The good news is you can train your brain to focus better by incorporating mindfulness exercises throughout your day. Based on our experience with thousands of leaders in over 250 organizations, here are some guidelines for becoming a more…

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