The Impact of MBSR on Anxiety Treatment

The average human blinks about 15-20 times per minute. This would result in 1,200 blinks an hour, and an astounding 28,800 blinks in a day. (Cronin, 2012) Now, when have you ever had to remind yourself to blink? The answer to this should across the board be virtually never. Our brain automatically tells our body to blink, just like our brain automatically causes us to breathe. It takes more effort to consciously not blink or breathe than it does to just let those things happen. Mindfulness then goes against our daily state of being for the most part, unmindful. As simple as mindfulness seems, it requires practice and patience to break our habits of being unmindful, living our lives on autopilot. Mindfulness originated about 2,500 years ago and can be traced back to the early teachings of the Buddha. The Buddha set out the first foundation of mindfulness focusing on the body, sensations/feelings, the mind, and mental contents. Mindfulness began and was shared by the Buddha in order to achieve nirvana, the end of suffering. (Fossas, 2015) However, in 2,500 years much has changed. It can be that argued that The Mindful Revolution really began in the late 1970’s when Dr.Jon Kabat-Zinn created an eight-week program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). (Fossas, 2015) This program prompted thousands of scientific studies on mindfulness and its potential effects on psychical, and mental well being. Through these studies it has been found that mindfulness therapies can help aid in an array of disorders including depression, anxiety, PTSD, chronic pain, and even cancer. MBSR therapies have shown promising results for many disorders but specifically, anxiety.

Most people suffer from some form of anxiety or another. Anxiety is the most common mental illness within the United States, affecting about 18.1% of people per year. (ADAA, 2018) Although the symptoms of mild anxiety may only disturb one’s day, the symptoms of severe anxiety can be debilitating. Mild symptoms range from feeling nervous and experiencing an increased heart rate, while more severe symptoms can be trembling, hyperventilation, and even panic attacks. (Mayo Clinic, 2018) Traditionally, anxiety has been treated with some combination of medications and therapies. (Web MD, 2018) While these tactics have proven to be effective they can often be costly, not only that but starting a daily medication/addictive medication runs the risk of dependance. In the search for new solutions, scientists came across mindfulness therapies, specifically MBSR. MBSR has been proven to effectively help treat anxiety and panic disorders. (UMASS Medical School, 2017) MBSR is commonly referred to a meditative awareness and focuses on teaching people to observe their experiences, rather than being completely consumed with them. (Sutter Health) MBSR includes a mindfulness practice six days a week that lasts for about 45 minutes. (UMASS Medical School, 201) These 45 minute sessions typically entail meditation practices such as progressive muscle relaxation, awareness mindfulness, body scan exercises, walking meditation, the breath, and many more. (Positive Psychology Program, 2017)

MBSR affects anxiety by changing the way people interact with their thoughts. These therapies help adults take a step back from the thoughts that are causing anxiety, to more accurately analyze the situation. Thoughts of panic become much shorter and easier to work through and no longer become reflections of reality. (Sethi, 2018) This helps regulate emotions and in turn, decreases anxiety. When the mind is blank it begins to wander and for those suffering from anxiety disorders this can lead to panicked thoughts. Due to the fact that mindfulness requires one to be in the present moment and to keep their mind from wandering, it is effective in stopping the train of panicked thoughts that lead to the feeling of anxiousness. Not only this, but being mindful of anxious thoughts helps create a more positive relationship between anxious thoughts and the individual. Instead of avoiding all situations that could prove to be anxiety producing, they are able to work through their anxious thoughts. The results of MBSR are slightly inconclusive. While there are many studies that support the theory that MBSR improves anxiety, some have found little correlation. This could be due to methodological flaws, but ultimately leads to slightly inconclusive results. Further research should be continued due to conflicting evidence in an attempt to find a more concrete conclusion. (Sethi, 2018)

Over my time in this TIDES course I feel as though I have completed a version of MBSR. Although class did not meet once a day, continued at home practices and suggested meditations in class were quite helpful. I have ultimately felt happier, more compassionate, and more in control of my emotions since starting this course. The power of mindfulness is strong, 2,500 years strong. There are an exponential amount of benefits to MBSR and it can potentially aid with many physical/mental issues across the board. I personally struggle with anxiety which is why I chose to research the effects of mindfulness on anxiety. I’ve tried countless medications and therapies and while some work, the side effects tend to be unpleasant and therapy sessions can become costly. Through the course I realized how many free mindfulness practices there were online that really helped me. As the world moves forward, more research should be done on these types of practices and how they can be embedded in our daily lives. Who knows, maybe one day we will all reach nirvana.

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