Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) protocols

One annoying aspect of stress is its ability to distract you from the rest of your life. Almost as if stress were this giant megaphone in your head, continually shouting about some situation over which you should be constantly worrying.

Dr. John Medina image
Dr. John MedinaDevelopmental Molecular Biologist
Wellness & Health
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) protocols image

One annoying aspect of stress is its ability to distract you from the rest of your life. Almost as if stress were this giant megaphone in your head, continually shouting about some situation over which you should be constantly worrying. 

This often happens at night, in the quiet dark of your bedroom. With no other sensory aspects of life which might on a temporary basis press the mute button on stress, midnight gives you time to focus completely on bad stuff. 

Scientists have a term for this, borrowed from a familiar English word. It’s called rumination. Given enough time, and enough rumination, stress can lead to anxiety or depression, which can affect quality of life in virtually every way you can measure quality We have to find a way to deal with the distracting nature of stress. And we can. The behavioral and cognitive neurosciences have a few suggestions to make. 

A number of focusing techniques have been developed over the years, then tested in real world situations, and found to work in surprisingly robust ways. When these anti-distracting techniques become a regular part of a person’s day, feelings of anxiousness decrease, depression is reduced and feelings of optimism return. We even know the areas of the brain that becomes affected. These techniques literally rewire those areas for the better.

One of the most famous protocols is a specialist in dealing with this distracting nature of stress. It’s called MBSR, short for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

MBSR is a variation of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s well-regarded mindfulness training protocols. These are gentle, guided ways to teach you to focus on things not related to stress at all. Instead, the protocols ask you to focus on things like raisins, or on what your big toe is doing. This always occurs in the context of deep-breathing exercises. 

If that sounds like a meditation, you’re right on the money. But not just any meditation. To get the benefits, you have to use the protocols tested under the wise gaze of peer-reviewed journals. Amazon has a number of high-quality workbooks from Jon’s work. Look for the letters MBSRs, and maybe Jon Kabat-Zinn – that’s spelled Zinn – to ensure quality. 

You will find that these types of MBSRs always have two features. The first is awareness monitoring, a way of focusing on present-moment experiences. The second is acceptance, which simply means you become aware of your present moment without judging it or trying to evaluate it. Deep breathing is an essential component.

The research is clear: the biggest weapon stress has is the loudness of the megaphone inside your head. MBSRs show you how to turn down the volume of this annoying machine. And then, with great joy, learn to press its off-switch.

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I’m John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist at the University of Washington. I have strong research interests in the genetics of psychiatric disorders, and author of the book Brain Rules…

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