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Patient Stories

The Mind-Body Connection

Stress Reduction Program Builds Skills for Coping with Life’s Ups and Downs

There’s no getting around it, life can be stressful. Work deadlines, family demands, financial pressures, chronic illness and a host of other frustrations both large and small can—and most certainly will—take their toll on everyone at some point. How this stress manifests itself varies widely from person to person. For some, the symptoms may include fatigue, sleeplessness and irritability. Others may experience anxiety or depression. Stress can also cause physical conditions such as a rapid heartbeat, nausea, dizziness and a wide variety of aches and pains.

Pervasive and unpredictable though it might be, stress is also manageable. With skills learned through North Shore Medical Center’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, the harmful effects of stress can be greatly reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

“Our program teaches participants to manage stress through different forms of mindfulness meditation, gentle movement and discussion,” says instructor Jefferson Prince, M.D., Director of Child Psychiatry at MassGeneral for Children at North Shore Medical Center.

“It doesn’t provide a formula for solving problems; rather, it teaches people how to process their emotions and tap into their own inner resources for relaxation, learning, growing and healing.” Through this awareness and inner strength, he adds, participants are able to better manage difficult or unpleasant events and play a more active role in maintaining their own well-being.

For Cindy Belhumeur of Swampscott, the MBSR program proved to be “extraordinarily helpful” during a particularly stressful time in her life. “I was caring for an elderly parent and other sick family members and found myself racing from one thing to the next without much thought,” says Belhumeur, a health and wellness professor at Salem State University.

“The word ‘no’ was not part of my vocabulary and all of the competing demands had me feeling overwhelmed.” Through the MBSR program, Belhumeur learned to slow down, take stock of her situation and better prioritize her time. “When I walked out of that class, I felt like I had a whole new set of techniques that I could use during stressful situations,” she says.

Dave Callahan, 62, of Marblehead, also found the program beneficial. “We all have things that bother us on a daily basis and I’m no different,” says Callahan. “The question is, how are you going to deal with the stress?”

For Callahan, a strenuous workout at the gym usually did the trick, but he now knows it wasn’t enough. “I’ve always been aware of my physical well-being, but this program showed me that my mental well-being is equally important.” Now when faced with a stressful situation, Callahan says he is able to pause, take a few deep breaths, settle his mind and think more clearly. “For me, learning to be less reactive has made a big difference,” he says.

“The reasons why people enroll in our program vary,” says Dr. Prince. “We have parents with adult children who have moved back home; children caring for parents with dementia; people who have been laid off from a job or are having relationship problems. We’ve had people with chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems and headaches. All have found relief by taking a more active role in their own well-being.”

Developed in the late-1970s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, the MBSR program is now offered at medical centers, hospitals and clinics around the world. Taught by a team of three MBSR-trained instructors, the eight-week program introduces participants to various meditation techniques, including those focused on breathing and body awareness. “There is a considerable amount of research supporting the power of mind-body programs like MBSR in dealing with stress and health issues for people of all ages,” says instructor Marguerite Roberts, N.P. “Everyone has the capacity to learn these skills, integrate them into their own lives and use them to relieve stress and achieve a greater sense of balance.”