HELLO fellow pharmacists and welcome to the second article in the 5W2 series.
The 5W2 series is a selection of short articles on strategies and techniques to support our emotional development within our professional roles. Each article includes tried and tested practical self-development tools.
This second article is Five Ways to Use Mindfulness, and will cover using mindfulness to:
- Reduce chronic pain.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Help with depression.
- Lose weight.
- Calm anxiety.
Before I get into the detail of the Five Ways I thought it might be useful to share what mindfulness is and isn’t, as I know from experience with patients and clients that there can be a bit of confusion and mystery surrounding mindfulness.
- A simple form of meditation.
- Paying attention on purpose.
- Increasing your awareness of your thoughts.
- Observing your thoughts.
- Using your breathing to focus on the present.
- The latest fad — it’s at least 2,500 years old!
- Easy — as it requires regular practise
- Just stopping thinking.
- A cure for clinical conditions — but it can be used together with conventional medicine.
- Relaxation — but relaxation can be a welcome side effect of mindfulness practise.
Personally, mindfulness helps me:
- Focus on the present moment and stops me worrying and feeling overwhelmed.
- Allows me to increase my awareness of what I am grateful for.
- Creates space between thinking and acting so I have more options of how to respond.
- Help me step back from my thoughts (both positive & negative) and remind me my thoughts are just thoughts, not facts.
For those of you who want to see and hear a great description of mindfulness click on this link and watch Andy Puddicombe’s TED talk: All it takes is 10 Mindful Minutes.
There are so many ways to use mindfulness, but I have chosen the following 5, which can be used for ourselves and in a clinical setting.
- Using mindfulness to reduce chronic pain
We all know patients who have chronic pain and struggle to exercise, sleep and carry out normal day-to-day tasks. These challenges can cause emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness and anxiety. Holding onto these emotions only prolongs the ‘suffering’. Using mindfulness in chronic pain helps the patient understand that the pain is inevitable but suffering is optional and using their breathing and awareness of their thoughts can reduce their suffering.
The following resource was recommended to me by a physiotherapist at the local GP surgery. She encourages all her patients with chronic pain to use the app daily, as she believes it helps them to feel more in control of their pain.
- CALM app – This is a mindfulness meditation app. The app is free for the simplest version and has a small cost for the whole range of meditations. It provides a selection of guided 2, 5 and 10 minute mindfulness meditations to help be more present, aware of thoughts and reduce tension. The app is really easy to use and is worthwhile recommending to patients.
- Using mindfulness to lower blood pressure
This is a quick and simple technique that allows patients to see an immediate result. I use it if BP readings are outwith the normal range after three readings. I ask the patient if they would like to learn a relaxation exercise that can reduce their BP and then take them through the breathing balloon technique:
- Close eyes and take 3 deep breaths.
- Make sure the focus of breathing is within the diaphragm and patient is not breathing with their shoulders!
- Ask them to imagine they have a balloon inside their chest that gets bigger as they breathe in and gets smaller when they breath out.
- Ask them what their favourite colour is and make the balloon that colour.
- Encourage them to focus on the action of their coloured balloon for quite a few breaths or until you can sense they are more relaxed and they are taking quality breaths.
- Tell them to keep their attention on the balloon (their breathing) while you take their BP again.
On most occasions the BP result after this exercise is lower. I encourage patients to use this exercise if they feel stressed or overwhelmed so they can control and reduce their BP day-to-day.
While studies have found mindfulness can help reduce stress, there is currently no strong evidence that it has clinical benefits for people with hypertension, although my personal experience indicates that patients do have an improved BP reading after trying this simple mindfulness breathing exercise.
- Using mindfulness to help with depression
Mindfulness can be helpful in patients that have depression caused by repetitive negative thinking patterns (rumination) or negative automatic thoughts (NATS). By practising mindfulness regularly the patient becomes more aware of how a focus on breathing stops the negative thinking patterns and connects the patient to the present moment.
Regular practise can help shift the patient’s perspective from “I’m always depressed” to “I have a feeling of depression just now which I know is temporary and won’t last forever”. This healthier approach towards emotions can be achieved by practising mindfulness daily. As a starting point for patients I recommend the CALM app starter session: 21 days of calm, as well as a 10 minute guided session of their choice every morning and a 10 minute guided session on ‘gratitude’ before sleep.
- Using mindfulness to lose weight
Mindful eating helps increase awareness of inner thoughts and emotions that drive comfort eating. Mindfulness helps individuals to eat in a healthy and conscious way that develops positive eating choices. The following are a list of tips on how to develop mindful eating:
- Focus on the food – turn off TV, put phone away and minimise distractions.
- Take 3 deep breaths.
- Notice your food, the colours, the smell and acknowledge how grateful you are to have this food.
- Take a small mouthful of food and chew slowly noticing the taste, texture and smell.
- Take another mouthful only after you have finished the first mouthful.
- Eat slowly to help you be aware of your stomach and the feeling of being full.
- When you feel full, stop eating even if your plate is not empty.
Use these tips at 2 or 3 meals within a week to help develop a more balanced approach to eating.
- Using mindfulness to calm anxiety
5,4,3,2,1 is a grounding technique using the simplicity of your five senses. Use this together with deep breathing anytime when you or patients are feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
- 5 – SEE. Observe 5 things around you.
- 4 – FEEL. Feel the texture of 4 things around you.
- 3 – HEAR. Listen for 3 sounds around you.
- 2 – SMELL. Experience 2 smells around you.
- 1 – TASTE. Notice 1 taste around you or recall a recent taste.
Taking 5 minutes out to focus on these 15 things can bring your thoughts to the present moment and allow you to take control of them and calm anxiety.
Ok that’s it, Five Ways to Use Mindfulness. I’d like to finish the article by sharing a little quote from one of my favourite films, Kung Fu Panda!
“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and now is a gift that’s why we call it the present”
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope there is something here that will help you and others use mindfulness to increase awareness and manage thoughts.
The next article in the 5W2 series is Five Ways to Self Coach and will be with you soon, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to find out more about anything in this article or has any comments please get in touch via the details below.
Jill Cruickshank is a Coaching and Development Consultant at Leading2Solutions, is qualified in NLP and CBT and is a Community Pharmacist