By Tiffany Chiu (APA Minority Fellowship Program Office Intern and Undergraduate Student at University of California, Irvine)
It’s a new year and we know that 2016 was a stressful year for many of us. Thinking of a way to manage your stress and anxiety in the year ahead? Practicing mindfulness may be the answer.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010 about 9 percent of Americans reported feelings of hopelessness or despondency associated with depression (CDC, 2010). How can we overcome such negative emotions? Prescription medications help many to alleviate depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. However, practicing mindfulness and relaxation exercises (e.g., meditation, yoga), may be equally as effective, if not more so, to alleviate stress and anxiety.
In a psychology study, cancer patients reported lower ratings of pain intensity and attributed pain relief and emotional positivity to praying and framing positive thoughts (Dezutter, Wachholtz, & Corvelyn, 2016). This study shows that we can all use mindfulness to build a therapeutic outcome in stressful situations.
There are three subjective themes to Mindful Meditation and Centering Prayer:
- Community: Participating in prayer groups can be an opportune time to show vulnerability without the fear of judgment. Having a safe forum allows us to build close friendships and share a sense of connectedness and purpose (Jones, Bodie, & Hughes, 2016).
- Peace: Practicing mindful meditation can also lower cortisol levels, the stress hormone (Turakitwanakan, Mekseepralard, & Busarakumtragul, 2013). Practicing mindfulness can give us strong clarity in our thoughts and peace during stressful and uncertain times.
- Moral Purpose: Mindful meditation and prayer can allow you to connect with your moral compass. Having a confirmation of your purpose and identity may lessen anxiety and stress in your daily life (Fear, Kenney, Loucks, McPherson, & VanOverbeke, 2005).
As a college student who struggles with anxiety, I became interested in practicing mindfulness after experiencing stigma for seeking professional help from within my community. The discrimination I experienced further fueled my passion for public awareness as a means for reducing the stigma of mental illness. To learn more about mindfulness, I conducted an independent research project on the effects of prayer practices on college students by interviewing and learning about students’ experiences with stress management.
Throughout my research, I discovered the prominent roles that mindfulness may play on the mental health of young adults. I am also interested in pursuing research that demonstrates how mindfulness may be implemented in wellness programs at institutions, such as federal prisons and schools. I would love to learn more about:
- How we can use mindfulness to lower recidivism rates and increase social support in federal prisons.
- How we can utilize mindfulness to make learning more effective for so many students in schools.
I hope that I can contribute to the answers of these questions as a researcher and school psychologist in the future.
More than adding to my professional capacity in research, mindfulness has improved my personal self-care. Practicing mindfulness in my everyday life has allowed me to create a balance between spending time with myself and connecting with others. Whether it’s praying in solitude or practicing yoga, these practices regulate my emotions and avoid burnout.
Here are 3 ways to implement mindfulness and relaxation exercises in your daily life
Find quiet time to sink into deep thought about the blessings in your life. Remind yourself of the people and things that you are most grateful for. Positively framing your thoughts can remove distractions of distressed thoughts and focus your mind on positive emotions.
This relaxing exercise allows you to practice your deep breathing techniques and simultaneously find clarity in your thoughts and emotions. By aligning and disciplining your mind to focus, you may also engage in reflective learning.
3. Reflective Journaling:
Writing in a journal is not only a way to document your thoughts, feelings, and values, but it allows you to know more about yourself by critically thinking, evaluating, and making sense of the events in your life.
Check out this handy infographic for how to do a 5-minute mini meditation:
Or watch this TED Talk video by psychologist, Dr. Kasim Al-Mashat, on how mindfulness meditation can redefine pain, happiness and satisfaction.
Overall, practicing mindfulness is positive for your emotional and physical health!
How do you practice mindfulness in your daily life? Please share your experiences in the comments!
Chiu, T. (2016). Prayer and biblical meditation for college students. (In Progress).
Dezutter, J., Wachholtz, A., & Corveleyn, J. (2011). Prayer and pain: The mediating role of positive re-appraisal. Journal of Behavioral Science, 6, 542-549. doi:10.1007/s10865-011-9348-2
Fear, F., Kenney, P., Loucks, R., McPherson, K. & VanOverbeke, J. (2005) Mindfulness and moral purpose: Exploring connections. Journal of College and Character, 6, 1-9.
Jones, S., Bodie, G., &Hughes, S. (2016). The impact of mindfulness on empathy, active listening, and perceived provisions of emotional support. Communication Research, 3, 1-14.
Turakitwanakan, W., Mekseepralard, C. & Busarakumtragul, P. (2013). Effects of mindfulness meditation on serum cortisol of medical students. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand, 3, 222-249.
Tiffany Chiu is currently a fourth year undergraduate student majoring in Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine. She is currently participating in the UCDC Internship Program, with placement in the APA Minority Fellowship Program Office. She is interested in pursuing a graduate degree in School Psychology and ultimately becoming a School Psychologist. If you have any questions regarding her research interests, please contact her at email@example.com.
Image sources: #1 (iStockPhoto.com), #2, #3, #4 (Flickr via Creative Commons) and #5 (GuardYourHealth.com)