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Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Training: Anxiety Relief without Medication

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

We all experience anxiety at certain times in life, usually during stress-filled performances with high expectations or in unfamiliar circumstances with the possibility of success or failure: taking exams, job interviews, parties where we don't know anyone, being sick or caring for sick family members, being out of our comfort zones for whatever reason – the list is a long one!

For some of us, though, the feelings of fear and worry become a constant and familiar way of life, along with the muscle tension and shallow breathing and the release of damaging "fight or flight" cortisol hormones.

An anxiety disorder is diagnosed when various symptoms of anxiety people experience create significant distress and some degree of functional impairment in their daily living. A person with an anxiety disorder may find it difficult to function in areas of life such as social interactions, family relationships, work or school. Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada

If you find yourself struggling with anxiety that is out of proportion to the normal activities and demanding situations of your daily life, you are not alone: anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in Canada. They are also highly treatable, and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has proven to be an effective treatment without medications.

What is MBSR and how does it work?

Dr. Elisha Goldstein in Psychology Today: "To explain how this [MBSR] works, let me throw out one of my favourite quotes by psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl:

'Between stimulus and response there's a space, in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.'"

MBSR training is an 8–10 week group program with two five-hour sessions per week. The group sessions are conducted by a leader who is trained in mindfulness, and who teaches exercises and topics within the context of daily mindfulness practice. (You can learn all about MBSR training at WebMD.)

MBSR training focuses on mindfulness practice through these three approaches:

Posture-based exercises that combine physical and mental awareness of the present moment

Meditation and exploration of one’s own consciousness through focused attention and non-judgment

Body scans: focusing on specific body parts and experiencing the feeling and location of the body in relation to our thoughts, emphasizing the importance of present awareness and focused attention

MBSR training also teaches participants how to continue practicing mindfulness after the 8-week program is over, prolonging the experience of empowerment over our emotions, enhancing our calm mind, and allowing continuing self-care.

An example of anxiety disorder and MBSR treatment: Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

...MBSR may have a beneficial effect on anxiety symptoms in GAD, and may also improve stress reactivity and coping as measured in a laboratory stress challenge. National Center for Biotechnology Information

GAD is a persistent and excessive worry over everyday activities, even when things seem to be ticking along without trouble. It usually includes panic attacks, which can cause an increase in heart rate, dizziness, sweating, and breathing problems.

MBSR affects anxiety reaction and emotions by changing our relationship to our own thoughts. Mindfulness allows us to take a different approach to thoughts that lead to worry and panic. With practice, anxious thoughts are seen as temporary, and we no longer see them as reflections of reality. Thoughts are transient; they come and go, and are not a fixed part of our identity.

MBSR researchers have found that sustained nonjudgmental awareness associated with mindfulness can:

  • increase our ability to recognize and decrease "monkey mind" thinking and "auto-pilot" worrying, increasing our comfort with unfamiliar or stressful situations

  • help anxiety sufferers to regulate emotions and decrease rumination on negative outcomes that actually increases the anxiety response

  • lead to the anxiety itself becoming the focus of our present, nonjudgmental awareness, allowing us to learn how to deal with it in a positive, self-supportive way

Studies also report that mindfulness practice through MBSR allows for individuals to engage in sustained, nonjudgmental attention to anxiety without trying to avoid it through constant distraction or medication.

Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment. Thich Nhat Hahn, in his book, Being Peace

MBSR training has helped thousands of anxiety sufferers since it was first used as therapy by Jon Kabat-Zinn in the 1970s. It has also brought relief for people with depression, attention deficit disorders, chronic pain, and PTSD.

Here is Dr. Kabat-Zinn in his own words in the video "Mindfulness 9 Attitudes - Beginners Mind".

MBSR training groups in Vancouver

Mindful-Changes offers the 8-week MBSR classes in Vancouver BC and the Lower Mainland.

Contact me for schedules and information on one-to-one training, classes, workshops, talks, and group courses for business, parents, kids, teens, and teachers.


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