Kim Beals turned to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital after she developed intense headaches, blurred vision and numbness in her right arm that baffled her medical team. She also learned she would need heart surgery to treat a major blockage in one of her arteries.
“I was devastated,” Kim recalls.
After all, she was a fitness instructor and a CEO of a small nonprofit organization and knew how to take care of her body. Anxiety and depression followed as Kim wondered if she would ever feel healthy again.
When her neurologist recommended the MBSR program to Kim, she enrolled immediately.
“The acceptance and awareness skills I learned and the support from MBSR program director Dr. Paul Jones kept me going. The course provided me with skills to cope with the anxiety and other challenges that one experiences when faced with a health issue,” says Kim.
MBSR is an evidence-based eight-week program 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.
“It’s about being present in the moment, but as simple as it sounds, mindfulness takes work and practice to accomplish. It’s a process.” Kim was part of a small group of individuals struggling with a range health issues. Together, they learned and practiced meditation with Dr. Jones in a nurturing environment that works on acceptance.
“A key aspect of MBSR is to help us cultivate kindness for ourselves and others,” says Dr. Jones. “We so often beat up on ourselves, often for things we have no control over. With mindfulness, we learn to be more compassionate and kind to ourselves and others.”
During the sessions, participants also learn about the physiology of stress and how to apply mindfulness skills in different settings and relationships – from daily self-care to work and family. The program requires 45 minutes of home practice using web-based recordings. Informal assignments also help participants use mindfulness concepts during daily tasks. One practice, particularly helpful to Kim, was a technique that encourages her to “stop, pause, breathe, notice what’s going on in your physical body and then proceed,” when she’s feeling stressed.
“You’re not left on your own to struggle after the class ends,” she says. There are many resources available that were shared during the class that provide support after the course is over. They included book recommendations, cell phone apps and even a meditation phone tree. Alumni retreats also are offered to reconnect to MBSR.
Kim has attended one alumni retreat, and she continues to meditate daily nearly a year after she finished the program. She still can’t believe the impact MBSR has had on her life.
“It’s gone beyond the initial focus of helping me deal with health issues. It’s helped me improve so many aspects of my life like recognizing and coping with depression and anxiety and improving my relationships with my family and friends,” she says.
“Meditation teaches you to reconnect with your life. It’s a gift to yourself. I am very grateful to Dr. Jones and to the MBSR program.”