Loosening stress' grip

Through the Mindfulness Practice Center, MU students and staff members can minimize tension
Friday, January 30, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Lania Knight used to feel powerless over the stress in her life.

Her busy schedule as an MU graduate student, graduate instructor, writer and mother was the main contributor to her stress. Then Knight began to experience trouble sleeping. She would toss and turn at night.

“All the things that I had to do kept running through my head, and I couldn’t stop thinking about all my commitments,” Knight said.

Knight had been searching for ways to limit the distractions in her life.

Then she saw an advertisement for the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program, which is sponsored by the Mindfulness Practice Center through the MU Student Health Center. Knight completed the program during the fall semester of 2003.

“The program teaches you to become aware of thoughts as they enter your mind, and instead of following those trains of thought, you learn to let go of thoughts, which was amazing for me,” Knight said.

The program was founded by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1979.

Lynn Rossy, a licensed psychologist for the Student Health Center, started teaching the program through the health center in January 2001. The Mindfulness Practice Center also will begin to teach cognitive therapy for depression classes this March through the center.

“We are meeting a demand,” Rossy said. “There is a definite rise of depression among college students across the country.”

Participants are taught meditation and yoga. They also learn how to perform body scans, where the mental focus is on different parts of the body, and how to use “mindfulness” practices in everyday life. These practices are intended to focus an individual’s attention on the present, thereby reducing stress. The classes meet for two hours each week. Participants must commit to a daily practice of one of the mindfulness techniques.

“Mindfulness teaches you to be aware of the present moment. Most of the time we are living in the past or future … living on auto-pilot,” Rossy said. “When you are present for your life, you begin to notice that you have habitual ways of dealing with stress that may not work. And becoming mindful gives you choices instead of just reacting with habitual practices.”

The stress reduction program and the cognitive therapy for depression programs are similar, Rossy said. Both use meditation, yoga and body scans. They also include an educational component. The stress reduction program’s educational component focuses more on aspects of stress, while the cognitive therapy for depression’s educational component centers more on preventing relapses of depression.

Rossy said more than 20 years of research indicates that these practices provide relief from the psychological and physical symptoms of stress such as anxiety, depression, worry, difficulty concentrating, sleep disturbances and headaches.

Stress is registered on the body first and often contributes to depression. Rossy said mindfulness practices have been proved to prevent relapses of depression and help people recover from stressful events quicker.

Student programs for both stress reduction and depression are offered in the fall and winter semesters through the Student Health Center. Programs for faculty and staff members are conducted in the summer.

After completing the program, Knight says she has benefited by gaining a sense of hope because she can now get through the overwhelming parts of her life without as much anxiety. She now regularly meditates or practices yoga.

“I have learned that my attitude greatly affects my well-being,” Knight said, “and that there are tangible solutions to my stress-related problems.”

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