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What is Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)?

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a therapeutic approach that helps a person learn to calm their mind and body to help cope with anxiety, depression, pain, and stress.

MBSR teaches “mindfulness,” which means focusing on things happening in the present moment and to purposefully pay attention and be aware of current surroundings, emotions, thoughts, and how the body feels.

An important part of mindfulness is to not judge the present moment. This is because, in judging, one might dwell on negative situations, feelings, or thoughts. Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teaches that dwelling on the past does not help a person accept or solve problems. Letting go of such thoughts may help one worry less and accept things as they are. Mindfulness teaches the individual to be in control of their mind so that their mind doesn’t control them.

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How does MBSR work?

To focus the mind on the present, MBSR teaches a person to focus attention on the entire body, starting with the feet and ending at the head. During this “body scan,” one might notice areas of tension or pain. Controlled breathing can help reduce such tension and pain. Secondly, one must notice thoughts and distractions that run through the mind without judgment. For example, one might notice that a thought about work comes to one’s mind. Rather than worry about the thought, simply note the thought (“work”) and feeling (“worry”) without dwelling on them. Attention is then turned back to the present moment. It is common for the mind to wander when a person begins to practice mindfulness. This is why mindfulness is called a practice: it takes practice to not judge one’s feelings and thoughts and to stay in the present moment.

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How effective is MBSR?

Studies show that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction can reduce stress and worry and help people relax. Studies of people with chronic pain and other physical problems show that MBSR helped some people cope better with symptoms and improve their quality of life. Research also shows that this therapeutic approach helped people sleep better and feel less anxiety and produced a reduction in symptoms of depression. Taking part in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has been linked to positive changes in the areas of brain that affect how a person pays attention, how they feel, and how they think.

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