Grass with light reflection

Did you know that we spend most of our moments thinking about the future, worrying about the future, or ruminating over the past?  It’s true.  “Our brains are wired that way,” said Steve Hickman, PhD, Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness at University of California San Diego (UCSD), in a video webcast on mindfulness earlier this year.

Exactly what is mindfulness?  “Mindfulness is moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness,” according to Hickman, whose Center offers an 8-week program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

During his 14-minute interview on The Brain Channel, Hickman, who is also an associate clinical professor with UCSD’s Departments of Psychiatry and Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine, said the frontal lobes of our brains give us the ability to imagine scenarios and plan ahead, which gets us into trouble, because it doesn’t allow us to be fully present.

Our colleagues at Kaiser Permanente Colorado published an article discussing the benefits of mindfulness-based therapies in the fall 2014 issue of The Permanente Journal.

McCubbin, et al., assess the clinical effectiveness of these therapies for both mental and physical health conditions in a study of patients with chronic pain, chronic illness, or stress-related problems. The study discusses outcomes in nine measures, including functional status, pain, depression, anxiety, psychological distress, and work productivity.

The authors say treatments aim to help patients develop an understanding of their vulnerabilities to illness and to build resilience through shifting cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to both internal distresses and external stressors.

What’s the bottom line?

The KP Colorado study, which followed 37 patients over a one-year period, says the results support providing Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction as a standard intervention for chronic pain, chronic illness, and stress-related disorders, because there is a clinical benefit.

How does one become more mindful?

One of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness is through practicing meditation, according to UCSD’s Hickman.

As he spoke about the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program in the video, he said the more people practice meditating, the more benefit they receive from having practiced.

There’s a dose/response relationship, which means presumably there are neuropathways that are strengthened through training, Hickman said.  One gains the ability to alter relationships with troublesome circumstances, thoughts, feelings, or pain – circumstances that may not change – to a more comfortable relationship, by practicing mindfulness.

Hickman gave an example of a man who had always been taught to tough it out through difficult or challenging circumstances.  After going through the program for chronic pain, the man explained his newly learned therapy this way, “For fifteen years, I’ve been fighting with my pain. What I learned through the practice of mindfulness was that it’s possible for me to dance with my pain.”

The situation and the pain didn’t change; it was the individual’s ability to alter what he thinks that changed.

Editor’s Note: SCPMG Physician Wellness and UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness just completed an MBSR program for a small group of physicians in the San Diego area. Although the numbers are too small to have statistical significance, participants noted increased mindfulness, increased self-compassion, increased satisfaction with life, increased happiness, as well as decreased avoidance of life events, decreased depression, decreased anxiety, and decreased stress. Some participants noted this course to be life altering. SCPMG Physician Wellness will continue to partner with UCSD’s Center for Mindfulness on other mindfulness projects, and look at other options to engage physicians in mindfulness opportunities.