Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus

4. Mindfulness (Part 1): Responding, Not Reacting, to Challenges

April 27, 2020 Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D.
Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus
4. Mindfulness (Part 1): Responding, Not Reacting, to Challenges
Chapters
Psychological Resilience in the Time of Coronavirus
4. Mindfulness (Part 1): Responding, Not Reacting, to Challenges
Apr 27, 2020
Ann Marie Roepke, Ph.D.

Episode 4 explores mindfulness, discusses how mindfulness is being used in therapy to help people deal with difficulties, covers some of its benefits and risks, and describes some informal mindfulness practices.

Resources and references:

1. Mindfulness research (selected):
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735817303847
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735815000197

2. Mindfulness authors to check out:
Thich Nhat Hanh
Jon Kabat-Zinn

3. Mental health resources:

Directory of therapists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

NAMI’s guide on coronavirus: https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide

CDC’s coronavirus information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

Show Notes Transcript

Episode 4 explores mindfulness, discusses how mindfulness is being used in therapy to help people deal with difficulties, covers some of its benefits and risks, and describes some informal mindfulness practices.

Resources and references:

1. Mindfulness research (selected):
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1809754
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735817303847
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272735815000197

2. Mindfulness authors to check out:
Thich Nhat Hanh
Jon Kabat-Zinn

3. Mental health resources:

Directory of therapists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists

National Suicide Prevention Life Line: 1-800-273-8255

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI

SAMHSA Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990

NAMI’s guide on coronavirus: https://www.nami.org/covid-19-guide

CDC’s coronavirus information page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

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hello and welcome back to psychological resilience in the time of Corona virus. This is a podcast about the ideas, thes skills and the relationships that can help us to get through this Cove in 19 Crisis. I'm your host, Anne Marie Rep Key and I'm also a psychologist, trainer and consultant based in Seattle. Washington This is episode for We'll be talking about mindfulness and the bigger and bigger role that mindfulness is playing in therapy these days. We'll talk about ways that mindfulness might be helpful in general, and particularly how it might be helpful during challenging times. And then I'll also be providing some guidance and tips for doing mindfulness meditation. Today, I'll give you some tips for doing more informal mindfulness meditation, and then next week I'll provide some guidance on formal meditation practices. As always, this podcast is for educational and informational purposes, and it's not intended as a health care service, medical advice, a doctor patient relationship or any kind of diagnosis or treatment. So definitely take a look at the show notes. If you need any resource is and ask a mental health provider. If you have questions or concerns about how mindfulness might fit for your unique needs. All right. Episode four Mindfulness. By this point, you've probably seen the magazine articles, or at least the covers of the magazines. Maybe you're waiting in the grocery store, check out line or sitting in a doctor's waiting room, and there's a magazine cover, and it's usually showing a young, flexible, fit white woman sitting cross legged in the lotus pose, usually on a beach or a mountaintop or beside a lake. And maybe she's got a slight smile on her face and is looking just totally serene. Mindfulness has definitely hit the mainstream. It's an ancient practice with roots in Buddhism that's been blowing up in popularity in Western culture, and it's also been blowing up in profitability for companies that make APS and other mindfulness programs and products. I recently read an estimate that the U. S mindfulness industry is going to be worth $2 billion by 2022 now. To be sure, there are some really important conversations to be had about this, for profit mindfulness industry and about cultural appropriation, and about what's gained or lost when we translate practices like mindfulness to a new cultural context and those important conversations are definitely being had. You can find them online to take a deep dive into that. The conversation that I want tohave here today is a somewhat different one. I want to share a perspective on how mindfulness is being used more and more in therapy to help people cope with the difficulties that we encounter in life and the challenging feelings and thoughts that come with those difficulties. So let's start talking about mindfulness by talking about mindlessness. Has this ever happened to you? You've been driving your car and you exit the freeway or you leave a tunnel or you pull into your driveway and you realize that you've really been paying no attention for the last five minutes of driving. I mean, part of your brain has been paying enough attention to keep you driving safely. But meanwhile, while your body was behind the wheel, your mind was somewhere completely different. Or maybe you're sitting here on a sale Wednesday in 2020. But your mind is far off in some day last month when you feel like you messed up or often someday, next month or next year or next decade. Worrying about things that might come so often. This happens to us. Our body is in one place, the present moment. But our mind is adrift in our past or in our future. And we're just on autopilot, our mind getting swept away by thoughts and feelings. And this can sometimes lead us to situations where our buttons get pushed and we react based on our habits or instincts rather than responding based on our wisdom and our values anchored in awareness of what's going on right now in the present moment. And maybe you've seen a lot of this button pushing and knee jerk reacting lately. I know that in the last six weeks or so, as the Cove in 19 Pandemic has unfolded in Seattle, I have seen some of the most beautiful acts of kindness between strangers, and I have seen more people yelling at each other in public then I have ever seen. Until now, mindfulness is an approach that can really help in times like this, where we're feeling worn pretty thin. We're feeling like our buttons are often being pushed, and that were in that situation of reacting in a knee jerk way rather than responding in a wise and values driven way, Mindfulness is an approach that could help re anchor our mind to the present moment. It can help us more skillfully approach those painful thoughts and feelings that we have, and it can give us maybe a little bit more freedom to respond rather than to react to those challenges. So let's talk a little bit about what's meant by mindfulness here. So there's different definitions, and the one that I really like is popularized by Jon Kabat Zinn, who? Someone who's done a ton to teach mindfulness in the West. And he talks about mindfulness as being about paying attention in the present moment, on purpose and without judgment so we can see that this has a little bit of a different flavor from something like concentration or focus the way that we usually think about it. And in particular, I think it's that nonjudgmental, non striving stance of just accepting and allowing mindfulness is more about noticing what's going on, then trying to evaluate it or force it to be something else. Now, there's been a lot of research coming out in recent decades about the benefits of mindfulness and in a way. I'm almost hesitant to emphasize this too much or to get into too much detail about it, because mindfulness is in many ways about non striving about holding some of our goals loosely and about allowing and accepting and noticing. And so if we say Oh, great, I'll read all of this stuff about mindfulness And then I will use this to make myself stop feeling anxious and sad. Then I think something's lost. And yet it's really important to talk about what we do and don't know about how mindfulness might be beneficial and also any ways that it could potentially be harmful. So the research that I'm going to talk mostly about is from what's called meta analyses, and a meta analysis is basically one awesome study. That number crunches together a bunch of smaller studies, and what's really cool about this is that it can give us more of a picture of what seems to happen on average, with something you might have noticed these news reports that come out from time to time, where one moment eating eggs is the healthiest thing we could dio. And then another report comes out saying that eating eggs is terrible for us. Same thing happens with wine. Same thing happens with lots of other things that we could read about in health related research. And one reason for that kind of back and forth confusion is that anyone's study can on Lee tell us so much. But a meta analysis can crunch all of those together to tell us a bit more. So what we know from meta analyses is that mindfulness practices and mindfulness related therapies or programs can be really useful for anxiety, depression, physical pain, quitting smoking or other addictions, and possibly for reducing stress and improving quality of life. There's a lot less evidence for things like boosting positive mood, focusing our attention more in daily life or changing our eating habits are weight or are sleep. So it's certainly not a cure all. There's also some really cool research about why thes mindfulness practices seem to be so helpful. What's the active ingredient in them that really does it? And it looks like there's a couple possible active ingredients, and one has to do with what we were talking about just a moment ago that through mindfulness training we can become better at responding rather than reacting. It helps to tamp down that reactivity or that kind of knee jerk reaction that we can have. Another thing is, it seems to really help with worrying and what we call ruminating in our psychology jargon. If you pick apart the word ruminate, it apparently comes from the same root as words that have to do with chewing the way that the cow, for instance, choose on that grass and just turns it in tow, cut and keeps chewing and ruminating in Psychology refers to a pretty similar process that we can get into mentally, where we're just sort of mentally chewing on troubling thoughts over and over. And it seems like mindfulness really helps us to change our thought process and change our relationship to our thoughts and be able to get out of that cycle off, worrying over and over about things in the future and ruminating over and over perhaps about things from the past. I sometimes think about this individual way, and I think about how, with some experiences may be some of the experiences that you're going through right now. There's sort of an unavoidable inner core of pain There are some experiences that are just bad and painful, and no amount of thinking differently or meditating is going to take that away from it. But in a lot of situations, we add on to that inner core of pain in those experiences, and we layer on even more suffering by the way that we are reacting to it by the way that we're thinking about it, by the way that replacing judgments on ourselves or on the situation. And so maybe in some of those situations, mindfulness can help us to melt off some of those layers of suffering that have been built up around that initial difficult experience. Now the research findings that I'm talking about are, of course, averages, and they might not apply to you. They don't apply to everybody. Lots of people seem to find benefits from mindfulness and one of the most common side effects that people talk about his feeling relaxed. But some people find mindfulness boring and unhelpful, and occasionally some people may even feel worse doing mindfulness. We don't really know enough about this yet in the science, but there have been some reports of people experiencing psychosis, increased anxiety traumatic memories coming to mind depersonalization, which has to do with sort of losing a sense of yourself or sense of your identity or just more generally, People sometimes experience increased painful emotions when doing mindfulness. Now these don't seem to be really widespread reactions, but I think it's really important to acknowledge that they can happen. I think it's also really important to notice how some of those very things that can happen with mindfulness, like experiencing more anxiety or difficult emotions, are at the same time exactly some of the things that mindfulness has been shown to help with. And so even if mindfulness isn't a relaxing experience for a given person, it might be a really powerful and healing experience in terms of finding a new way to experience anxiety, to approach anxiety and to respond to those sorts of thoughts or feelings in real time as they come up. There's also adaptations that we can do for mindfulness practices if you do find that you have challenges like feeling more anxious or having difficult or painful memories come to mind. But the most important thing to say is that if someone's just not in the market for doing that sort of work. If someone finds that mindfulness brings up difficult thoughts or feelings, and this is just not the right time or way to work through them, that's totally fine. It might be a good time to skip it, pass on the craze of mindfulness and check out some other coping resource is or to proceed with it. But just with some caution and some extra support, all right, if you are interested in giving some mindfulness practices a try, then let me give you an invitation for a couple things that you could do right now. Now there's a distinction that's made between what's called formal mindfulness practice and informal mindfulness practice. So formal mindfulness practice is about sitting down and saying, The only thing that I'm doing for the next 5 10 60 minutes is practicing mindfulness, and next week I will give you some guidance on how to do that. But there's also plenty of ways to do informal mindfulness practice to just fold this into daily life, and so that could be a place to start. And it can also be a really helpful way to do this. If you do find that it's a little bit difficult for you when you just sit alone with your eyes closed. So a couple of options that you could try out one is pick any household task or daily activity that you normally dio like doing the dishes or going for a walk and just do that same exact activity. But experiment with taking a slower, more mindful approach to it. If you're doing the dishes may be noticing the textures of the dish is in your hands may be noticing in a new way the temperature and the feeling of the water as it goes over your hands, maybe tuning into the sounds of the dishes clinking like you've never heard them before. A second option is to do some mindful eating, so the classic way to do this is to eat a reason. But there's nothing magical or special about a reason it could be a cracker or a strawberry. You're a piece of candy or gum or really whatever you have on hand. And the idea with this is to make this the world's slowest, most careful, attentive, thoughtful and mindful eating of that raisin or candy or being or whatever to really notice the whole sensory experience. The's Smalls textures the tastes, how those things change over time, as that raise in or piece of food starts to dissolve in your mouth. That's another great way to do some informal kind of blue jeans, day to day mindfulness practice. Another thing that you could do. It's just a really brief, slightly more formal practice by just taking five breaths or 10 breaths in a way where you are paying attention in the present moment on purpose and without judgment. So it's not a breathing relax ation exercise where you need to use any particular trick or force your breath to be any particular way. You're just simply noticing what's there noticing any movement on your in breath and your out breath noticing any sensations. All right, team. That's it for today. If you're interested in doing a little bit deeper, dive into mindfulness, then check out next week's episode, where we'll be doing a little bit more formal mindfulness practice and, as always, feel free to reach out with any ideas or suggestions. Resilience. Podcast 2020 at gmail dot com If you're enjoying the podcast, it would be awesome if you left a rating or review or if you follow or subscribe, because that helps other people to find it. All right. I will look forward to connecting with you next week. And in the meantime, take care of yourselves. Take care of each other by now.