Coping with Chronic Stress: MBSR and MBCT

Are you feeling stressed?   This might seem like a silly question in the world we currently live in.  But what is the best way to handle this stress?  Conventional wisdom suggests that it is best to just distract yourself and do whatever you can to take your mind off whatever is stressing you out. If you don’t know what’s stressing you out, you might find yourself tempted to find coping strategies that help you distract yourself from the negative feelings themselves. But, is this really the best way to go about things?

In 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.  This program combines the concepts of medicine and psychology with ancient Buddhist teachings and practices, especially as they relate to meditation. This eight-week program combines the principles of mindfulness – a direct, purposeful, and non-judgmental awareness of one’s present thoughts and feelings – with yoga and meditation to help better address the physiological and psychological stressors of a chronic illness. In contrast to our intuitive tendency to ignore and distract ourselves from negative thoughts and feelings, mindfulness teaches us to address them head on. This direct approach helps a person ultimately find a more permanent coping method to deal with their stressors in the long term than simply trying to ignore them would.

Since the perception of physical pain has a mental component, MBSR has also been shown to help individuals deal with the symptoms of chronic pain disorders. This method has been shown to be effective by several different scientific studies, demonstrating links not only to positive results in the quality of life, but also to changes in neurochemistry as a result of the practice. That is, MSBR has been shown to improve life both mentally and physically.

Heavily influenced by Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program, Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale later created Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). Both approaches center around the concept of mindfulness, but MBCT was designed to tailor more specifically to mental illnesses, such as clinical depression. As a result, there is less emphasis on the physical components (such as yoga), and more emphasis on the psychological mindfulness components that help people identify and address problematic thought patterns behind many of their symptoms.  Furthermore, MBCT has been shown to help prevent relapse in individuals with three or more prior episodes of depression.

Over time, MBSR and MBCT have both been adopted for use in non-clinical populations as well because the need to find a way to effectively cope with stress is not unique to those with clinical conditions. We all face situations in our day-to-day lives that might overwhelm us without the proper coping skills. While there is no end-all strategy to help everyone with every problem they might encounter, mindfulness is scientifically proven to be a more lasting coping strategy for many stressors, mental and physical.

So, next time you are feeling stressed, don’t act passively by ignoring the stressor.  Instead, use mindfulness to address the problem head on!

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