SURGEON GENERAL’S RX FOR STRESS IN AMERICA

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has put itself firmly on record as being deeply concerned about our national epidemic of stress at the individual, organizational and societal levels. NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) broadcast on September 7th its annual Stephen E. Straus Distinguished Lecture in the Science of Complementary Therapies. The lecture was titled A Nation Under Pressure: The Public Health Consequences of Stress in America.

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PROMOTING RESILIENCE WITH OPTIMISM AND MINDFULNESS

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently documented a worrisome increase in stress in the U.S. population (Stress in America https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress). Uncontrolled stress can cause or worsen anxiety, depression, PTSD and a wide range of clinical conditions affecting every organ system. Medical students, residents and practicing physicians experience higher levels of stress than their age-matched counterparts at all levels of medical training....

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ALLOWING AWE IN MEDICINE

Of all the sciences, medicine uniquely combines all domains of the human condition-biological, cognitive, emotional, environmental, interpersonal and transpersonal. The more we learn about the benefits of the interpersonal and transpersonal dimensions of health, disease and medical practice, the more we seek to populate medical schools with well-rounded students and humanize medical training and the healthcare workplace.

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and at home. At-risk children with disabilities, living in poverty, unstable or violent homes, homeless shelters or juvenile detention centers can learn that these conditions do not define them. Their true nature is not their life circumstances or their diagnosis.


Mindfulness benefits for teachers

Roughly half a million U.S. teachers leave the profession each year due to chronic stress, anxiety, depression and burnout. Teachers feel tremendous pressure to do their best for their students in an age of classroom disrespect, school violence and unfriendly state legislative actions. Teachers who train to teach mindfulness in their classroom notice a difference in their own stress management, resilience, self-awareness, emotion regulation and interpersonal communication skills. As they help children speak kindly and listen quietly, they deepen their own capacity for effective, compassionate communication. Especially gratifying (and humbling) for teachers are the moments when children remind them to slow down, take a breath, chill and just relax.


Mindfulness benefits for parents

Many parents have stress-related chronic conditions- common among them are anxiety, depression, headache, sleep disturbance, pain conditions and digestive and inflammatory disorders. Most mindfulness skills that kids learn in school are portable. Even very young children can learn mindful breathing to manage stress, anger, fear and sadness- increasing their emotional intelligence at an early age. This behavior can be a model for parents and siblings who can learn from and practice with the mindful child in the house. Inspired by their children’s progress toward becoming a mindful child, parents can be motivated to formally study and practice mindfulness as well- creating a mindful family. In classes I teach for adults, I often hear stories from parents whose children want to practice the home assignments along with them.


Mindfulness benefits for physicians

Kids deserve a doctor that is happy, resilient, compassionate and listens well. The pandemic has led to great suffering among physicians. Mindfulness-based training for physicians has demonstrated significant personal and professional benefits. Ongoing research by the Mindful Practice Program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine shows that participating physicians experience improvements in empathy, burnout and attitudes associated with patient-centered care.


Heartfulness

In many Asian languages the word for heart and mind are the same. Thus, it is said that mindfulness is also heartfulness. The growth of self-awareness that occurs with regular mindfulness practice helps children and adults touch and grow their warm interior feelings of love, friendliness, kindness, forgiveness, empathy and compassion. This is the basis for the Mindfulness-Based Kindness Curriculum for Preschoolers of the Center for Healthy Minds. Adults and children of all ages have the capacity to cultivate heartfulness and all its associated virtuous personality traits.


Mindfulness exercises for kids  (and their adults)

Paying attention to the body and the breath are basic introductory mindfulness practices. We train the mind to pay attention by using the grounded dependability of the body. Even though our mind may be in some other place-our body is always here. Even though our mind may be in the past or future, the body is always in the present. Our body is always here and now. We train in feeling the physical sensations in the body, especially noticing the presence of opposite sensations, such as warmth and coolness, heaviness and lightness, comfort and discomfort, liking and disliking.


As we gain confidence in experiencing the simultaneous presence of opposite physical sensations, we can transfer that skill to our thoughts and emotions. Children can experience the simultaneous presence of test anxiety and the joy of learning. Adults can experience the simultaneous presence of depression and gratitude for the love in their life.


I have made audio recordings for “Soft Belly Breathing” and “Body Scan.” Below are links to these introductory mindfulness practices.  I have also provided links to resources created by the Aetna Foundation’s public awareness campaign promoting mindfulness for children and throughout society.


Mindfulness is a natural human capacity that kids, teachers, parents and physicians can cultivate- and it can change everything.         

Anxiety, depression, loneliness and suicide are increasing- not just in adults, but also in children and youth. Public health officials and educators are looking for ways to limit the harm caused by the pandemic, the pace of modern life and the endless stream of disturbing news. Mindfulness practice has emerged as an important tool that can benefit children as well as their teachers, parents and physicians.


What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a portable tool for effectively coping with stress. It consists of intentionally maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, emotions, body sensations and surrounding environment with openness, acceptance and curiosity. It’s simple- but not easy.


What are the benefits of mindfulness?

Research shows that mindfulness improves attention, impulse control, emotional resilience, memory, and chronic pain. It strengthens the “mental muscle” to bring attention and focus back to the task at hand- whether that is a child dealing with test anxiety, a teacher dealing with guns in schools, a parent dealing with their own chronic disease or a physician at risk during this pandemic. Mindfulness can help us reverse the downward spiral of worry, rumination, awfulizing and catastrophizing- preventing or reducing recurrent bouts of anxiety, panic, depression and substance abuse.


Mindfulness helps us accept and even forgive ourselves for harmful habits and actions and, in the process, cultivate empathy,

BY JOHN A. PATTERSON MD, MSPH, FAAFP

forgiveness and compassion for others who are on this same life journey, doing the best they can. By mindfully paying attention to our emotions, we learn how fleeting they are and learn to see how we cling to pleasant emotions we like and resist or deny unpleasant emotions we don’t like. Relaxation is a common side benefit of mindfulness practice, though mindful attention can also be brought to activity and movement.


Mindfulness benefits for children

A child’s autonomic nervous system responds to the stress of a math test in the same way it responds to actual physical danger. Children need tools to decrease the fight-or-flight stress response and increase the rest-and-digest relaxation response. Like adults, children also need to balance their goal-oriented, achievement-focused doing mode with their calm, peaceful, quiet being mode.


By helping them cope with stress, mindfulness helps many children reduce distractibility and hyperactivity, learn better, score higher and reach their full potential. Children get more grounded, slow down, relax their bodies, quiet their minds and open their hearts. They learn to regulate their unskillful physical, mental and emotional reactivity and become more skillfully responsive at school

JOHN A. PATTERSON MD, MSPH, FAAFP

Dr Patterson chairs the Lexington Medical

Senator Alvarado earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Loma Linda University (California) in 1990, and then went on to receive his Doctorate in Medicine in 1994. He completed his medical residency in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Kentucky in 1998. Society's Physician Wellness Commission and is certified in Physician Coaching. He is on the family practice faculty UK College of Medicine and teaches nationally for Saybrook School of Integrative Medicine and Health Sciences (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, DC). After 30 years in private family practice in Irvine KY, he now operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative mind-body medicine consultations specializing in mindfulness-based approaches to stress-related chronic conditions and burnout prevention for helping professionals. He can be reached through his website at www.mindbodystudio.org