Ann Johnson is a better friend, wife, coworker and citizen thanks to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “I now have a totally different way of being,” explains Ann. “My emotional make up is different, my responses are different. I no longer feel stressed or angry all the time.”
Ann’s sister recommended the MBSR program to her during a particularly stressful time in her life. The program offers meditation and mindfulness training in a supportive and caring environment near MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
For Ann, the program was an opportunity to create a space for herself and learn how to navigate her world and make it less upsetting. She learned how to pause during a stressful event before reacting, which made her environment more manageable
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction is an evidence-based eight-week course that teaches participants skills to reduce physical and emotional stress and enhance day-to-day well-being. Pioneered in the late 1970s, MBSR has been shown to be effective at helping participants with setting goals and managing symptoms related to pain, stress, anxiety and physical illnesses. Bottom line: MBSR is designed to help participants improve their quality of life. Anyone can attend the program—even healthcare professionals are encouraged to embrace MBSR.
Like most participants, Ann didn’t know what to expect when she attended her first class, but she was optimistic and open to learning. She did know she had work ahead of her, judging by the program description:
- An orientation session
- Class sessions of 2.5 hours
- Thirty minutes or more of meditation each day at home
- A day-long retreat
“I was surprised that the pace of the class activities made the class feel much shorter than it actually was,” says Ann. “Most important, I could tell immediately that the first meditation session had been helpful. I was shocked by how much better I felt afterwards. I thought I’d have to work up to feeling results. After my first class, I was motivated to do the meditation homework and invest my time into MBSR.”
Another surprise for Ann was just how busy her mind felt during the first in-class meditation. When MBSR program director Paul Jones, MD, MAT, guided Ann and her classmates to connect to their breathing, she felt her brain acting like a popcorn machine. “I can’t even describe how fast my thoughts were happening and how many subjects they jumped to in a short amount of time.”
Dr. Jones talked through most of the meditation—it wasn’t a silent practice as are some meditation practices--and Ann found his approach helpful. It gave her something to focus on rather than trying to quiet or follow her over-active brain.
“Mindfulness is a tool we all can learn and apply to any part of our lives,” says Dr. Jones. “Its value is learning how to be really present in each moment, even in the midst of hectic and even painful parts of our lives. With mindfulness, we learn to respond more intentionally to the many things in life we can’t control, rather than react automatically in ways that end up making things worse.”
“I learned how to train my brain to come back to my breath, to be aware and not reactive,” says Ann. She valued the daily homework, and her weekend meditation practices became longer and deeper as she progressed through the MBSR session.
She continues to practice the skills she learned during the classes and from her homework sessions and has a daily meditation practice. And, she’s attended more than one of the retreats, which are open to all MBSR alumni. Ann has referred three friends to the program. “I am a big fan,” she says.
“I just never thought I would move from that hopeless reactive place I was in two years ago,” Ann explains. “Looking back, that single act of taking the program, and doing the homework and attending the retreats has changed my life. I’m so much happier.”