Living a mindful life to reduce stress

by Cori Hilsgen

A stress reduction technique called “mindfulness” is gaining popularity in the healthcare field, workplaces and other areas. Certified nurse practitioner Kathleen Mahon recently presented that topic at the CentraCare Health Plaza.

February is Heart Awareness Month. Mahon works at the CentraCare Heart and Vascular Center.

Mahon said at first she wasn’t sure if she would be able to interest enough people about the topic, but she shared it with a large crowd of 287 people. She decided to present on this topic because of the role stress plays both in the development of heart disease and most other chronic diseases.

“It is now estimated more than half of the population has some form of chronic disease,” Mahon said. “Mindfulness is a great approach for stress management that everyone can do to promote their own health and well-being. Interest in mindfulness is growing exponentially as more research is done to justify its use as a viable option to complement medical care.”

Mahon said heart disease is often related to lifestyle and can sometimes be prevented by making changes. One of those changes includes reducing stress. She said there’s been substantial evidence that links coronary artery disease and stress.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a clinically proven, eight-week program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn and others at the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and has been practiced in hospitals, clinics, mental health centers and businesses for more than 25 years.

According to Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way on purpose to the present moment, non-judgmentally.

Seven attitudinal foundations of mindfulness include no judgment, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and non-attachment. The technique requires focused training to teach your mind to stay in the present without thinking about the past or the future.

“It’s about awareness and focus on the present moment,” Mahon said. “It’s training your mind to spend more time in the present moment. You can’t be a perfectionist at this practice. Your mind will wander. When you realize it has wandered, don’t be frustrated. The realization is a moment of awareness.”

She also said non-judgment is more about being aware of the fact we judge everything. Mindfulness is not about falsely pretending not to judge but more about being aware of the judging and taking a step back from it and not being so attached to it.

Mahon gave examples of being more mindful in daily activities. She talked about listening to the person you are conversing with instead of being distracted by other things in the room. Listening without judgment often results in better conversations. Another example is to focus on the food you are eating and to chew more slowly to really savor the taste of the food so you can develop healthier eating habits.

Benefits of mindfulness include a decrease in physical and psychological symptoms, increased ability to relax, reductions in pain levels and enhanced ability to cope with chronic pain, greater enthusiasm and energy, increased self-esteem and ability to cope.

The results of the practice of mindfulness are showing up at Fortune 500 companies, such as Google and General Mills, on sports teams such as the Seattle Seahawks and other areas. Worker productivity increases when workers are happier at the workplace and athletes perform better when they are in the present.

“The beauty of mindfulness is you can do it anywhere, you don’t need a prescription, and the only side effect is it just might transform your life,” Mahon said.

Mahon earned her mindfulness training from Massachusetts General Hospital, a master’s degree from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul and a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She is the coordinator of the Women at Heart Project at the CentraCare Heart and Vascular Center.

In spring, Mahon plans to complete training to become a certified holistic nurse practitioner in addition to her current certification as an adult nurse practitioner.

contributed photo
CentraCare certified nurse practitioner Kathleen Mahon recently present to a crowd of more than 285 people about “Mindfulness: Medicine for the Heart.”

Cori Hilsgen

Cori Hilsgen

Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
Cori Hilsgen
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