Mindfulness: creating calm

To Your Health

By DR. HANI CHAABO

Sometimes, the daily challenges of life can become so overwhelming that you are at a loss as to how to cope. Intense stress often leads to anxiety and other mental health concerns, but it can also impact your physical health. An integrative approach to stress that’s gained traction over the past decade is the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is really many things. But, the actual definition is basically a quality of attention. And it’s a way you pay attention, where you are paying complete attention, on purpose, to the present moment without judgment.

While mindfulness and meditation are often refered to interchangeably, mindfulness is a way of going about your day, interacting with people, observing yourself. Meditation is more the act of sitting down, closing your eyes, listening to your thoughts and performing breathing techniques.

With approximately 40 years of research on mindfulness in healthcare through an initiative called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program, a number of health benefits have been identified.

Mindfulness has been studied on mental health disorders, chronic pain, headaches, even autoimmune disorders like psoriasis, as well as quality of life related to chronic disease and quality of life related to cancer. It’s been shown to be helpful in all of these conditions.

Mindfulness is even starting to find its way into national guidelines for treating back pain and chronic pain syndrome. It’s been shown to reduce feelings of unpleasantness by approximately 57 percent and the intensity of pain by about 40 percent. When you compare that to the classical ways we treat pain with narcotics and non-narcotics, it’s in many ways more effective than when you treat people with medication.

Two separate areas of study have shown how mindfulness impacts both brain activity and DNA. The first, neuroplasticity, involves changes in the brain’s architecture based on one’s experience. For example, individuals who are depressed will undergo changes in their brain that keep them depressed.

When these individuals start to practice mindfulness and come out of depression, changes in architecture shift towards areas that are involved in more positive processing, and in regulation, and so this keeps people in a good place.

The second phenomenon is epigenetics. Similar to how the brain’s architecture changes with one’s experience, DNA can also turn on and off. One specific area where mindfulness is impactful to DNA is in regard to aging. When you practice mindfulness, the DNA that’s supposed to conserve your DNA matter to keep it longer as you age actually starts to increase.

Ridgecrest is currently offering the Mindfulness Based Lifestyle Change Program, an eight-week program that helps individuals change their mindset or outlook on daily life, as well as adopt healthier lifestyle habits. The program is broken up into two four-week tracts; first mindset and then lifestyle.

In the first half of the program, we explore your resistances, the way you deal with your triggers, different ways you can look at things, different areas in your life you’d like to enhance, areas in your life that maybe bring you down. The second four weeks are all about learning different ways you can eat, ways you can exercise. There is some handholding here, focusing on areas in your life that need a little bit of tweaking, let’s say your social environment, the way you relate to other people and ultimately your purpose in life.

Dr. Chaabo is a family medicine physician at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital’s Rural Health Clinic. To learn more about the Mindfulness Based Lifestyle Change Program, see the hospital’s website at www.rrh.org/stressreductionclinic. If you’d like to listen to an interview with Dr. Chaabo on this topic, including a guided mindfulness exercise, you can listen to his podcast episode at https://radiomd.com/ridgecrest/item/41513.

Story First Published: 2020-02-14