New free program for students trains mind to reduce stress
New free program for students trains mind to reduce stressJanuary 10, 2006Carol K. Masiclatclkim@syr.edu
American college students are feeling more distressed than ever before. According to a national survey conducted in 2004 by the American College Health Association, nearly half (45 percent) of all college students reported feeling so depressed at one point in their college careers that they were having trouble functioning and 63 percent felt “hopeless” at times. Ninety-four percent reported feeling “overwhelmed.”
For many students, the pressures of school, relationships, work and other obligations can result in a heightened level of stress, anxiety and depression. To help them cope with and reduce stress, the Syracuse University Division of Student Affairs Counseling Center and Dr. David Monsour are offering a free course in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to SU students. MBSR is a program pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
The eight-week course begins Feb. 17 and meets Fridays from 1-3:30 p.m. in Room 331 of Sims Hall. An all-day retreat is scheduled for Saturday, April 8. Class size is limited. For more information on MBSR, visit the Counseling Center’s website,http://counselingcenter.syr.edu. To register for a pre-program orientation session, contact the Counseling Center at 443-4715 or e-mail email@example.com.
“In our culture, we have no problem understanding that the body can be trained to run faster, lift more weights or become a better basketball player, but notmuch attention is paid to training the mind to be more focused, balanced, stableand present,” says Monsour. “In this course, we will work with training the mind to attend to the present moment more openly and nonjudgmentally. This has great applications to our health and our performance in daily life and work.”
The MBSR program teaches mindfulness meditation and its application to everyday life and work. Mindfulness is a practice that cultivates an open, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment.
The course is made possible by a three-year federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Part of the grant money will go to funding this program. The grant, the first of its kind, is dedicated to teaching college students emotional life skills to help them cope with the demands and pressures of college life.
Monsour offers the program privately to individuals and groups. As a corporate consultant, he is on the teaching faculty at the UMass Stress Reduction Clinic, where he has led professional teaching training seminars for others who come to UMass to train to teach the program.
Introduced by Kabat-Zinn in 1979, MBSR is taught around the world and in more than 250 programs in North America. More than 16,000 MBSR graduates based at the UMass Stress Reduction Clinic experienced a greater ability to handle stress, pain and illness, and felt an increased sense of control, well-being and appreciation in their every day lives after completing the program.
In a recent study, Richard Davidson and Kabat-Zinn scanned the brains of participants before and after the eight-week program in response to a series of stressful tasks. The study showed a “left shift” toward activation of the left prefrontal cortex versus the right when compared to pre-program scans. The left prefrontal cortex is associated with more positive emotional affective response. The results illustrate the property of neuroplasticity, which Monsour describes as the brain’s ability to change the way it works and is wired in response to how it is being used. “This means we aren’t really stuck with the patterns we find ourselves repeating, but can train the mind to respond in new ways to stressful situations and events,” says Monsour. “We are always practicing something.”
In addition, the subjects were given flu vaccines; those who took the program showed a healthier antibody response to the vaccine. The greater the “left shift” was in a subject, the healthier the antibody response.
Says Monsour: “The toxicity of chronic and inappropriate release of stress hormones to the body and mind is hardly a debatable topic anymore. The question is how to keep from residing in this zone of damage for long periods ofour lives. Mindfulness practice is a way to focus our attention fully on whatever our experience contains so that we can work with it rather than spending large amounts of time and energy struggling against it, reacting to it, running from it or releasing stress hormones over it. This energy is better spent responding andworking clearly with what is here, in order to make a better future for ourselves and everyone around us.”
From the bereaved to sufferers of chronic pain, MBSR has helped thousands of people cope with stressful situations and learn how to tolerate the situations with a greater level of comfort. Newsweek, Time and National Geographic have reported on MBSR, and it has been featured on Bill Moyers’ “Healing and the Mind” television program.
Over the course of SU’s program, participants will learn several mindfulness meditation practices, including sitting, walking, gentle yoga and body scan meditations. They will also integrate the understanding cultivated by these practices into daily life. Weekly exercises will include CD-guided meditation practice and other homework assignments.
Monsour teaches that mindfulness meditation improves the ability to concentrate and train one’s attention. “Paying attention to our experience in this way allows us to turn toward our moment-to-moment experience and connect with it more fully and openly. This allows a clearer appraisal of our actual experience, and a greater chance for responding with more ease, rather than reacting and struggling against what is already here,” says Monsour. “It is possible to get better at riding the inevitable waves of our life and experience by practicing to deal in a more balanced way with what arrives.”