Reduce Stress Through Mindfulness
Today’s world can often be hectic and stressful. It can be easy to live on autopilot and feel weighed down by day-to-day stress. But what if there was a way to change how you relate to the world? One simple practice might help you live a healthier, fuller life: mindfulness.
Mindfulness means purposefully paying attention to the present moment. It can help Veterans and their loved ones see things as they really are by observing—but not judging—their experiences.
“Most of the time we’re caught either in the past or in the future with our thoughts and we’re really missing out on what’s going on in this moment,” said Christiane Wolf, MD, Ph.D., lead consultant for VA CALM, a mindfulness facilitators training program for clinicians. She and clinical psychologist Dr. Greg Serpa, Ph.D., created the first national mindfulness facilitators training program for VA staff.
“A lot of people think, ‘well, I’m paying attention all the time, I’m here in my life.’ But really in this moment, a lot of us aren’t right here,” said Dr. Serpa. “We’re either rehearsing the future and thinking about what we have to do next or rehashing the past. Between all the rehearsing and rehashing, we forget that at this moment right here is when we’re alive.”
Practicing mindfulness can be as simple as paying attention to daily life. For example, using your senses to deliberately focus on an activity like drinking a cup of coffee or petting a dog. It can also be practiced while walking or doing yoga, or by taking a class.
Mindfulness, and other self-care practices, can be acessed anywhere and anytime. On-demand and ready when you are, VA's #LiveWholehealth self-care series delivers many virtual whole health resources.
Mindfulness has been shown to be effective for reducing stress, improving resilience, increasing self-awareness, helping with anxiety and depression, and coping more effectively with chronic pain. Practicing mindfulness can help rewire the brain in as little as eight weeks, making it a tool Veterans can use daily to help improve their life.
“Mindfulness gives me a chance to center myself and just think about one thing at a time and allow my brain to take a moment to relax,” said Peter Lisowski, a Marine Corps Veteran and mindfulness program graduate.
Mindfulness is a practice that can help people from all walks of life. Dr. Serpa recommends starting small by paying attention to small moments throughout the day. “Doing it throughout the day won’t take more time, but it will make a difference in how you feel,” he said.
Another important point in practicing mindfulness is to reserve judgement and expectations.
“People conflate what mindfulness is supposed to do. It does not mean relaxation, you might actually be restless. And you’re doing it just right,” Dr. Serpa reflected. “It’s about paying attention to what is happening in this moment. In our lives there’s a whole lot of uncertainty and breaks in our routine, and it’s hard to sit with that. You don’t have to pop a pill for discomfort over time. Mindfulness can help you learn to sit with what is.”
The following is a list of mindfulness resources available through VA. Veterans can also contact the VA medical center in their area to learn about available classes.
- What is Mindfulness?
- Why Mindfulness for the VA?
- Four Ways to Cultivate Mindfulness
- Beginning a Mindfulness Practice
- Mindfulness and Compassion
- An Introduction to Mindful Awareness
- Mindful Awareness Practice in Daily Living
- Precautions with Using Mindful Awareness Practices
- Mindfulness Coach - Provides a gradual, self-guided training program designed to help you understand and adopt a simple mindfulness practice.
- Moving Forward - Provides on-the-go tools and teaches problem solving skills to overcome obstacles and deal with stress.
- Mood Coach - Designed to help you boost your mood through participation in positive activities. You can make a plan with positive activities and track your progress.
- Introduction to Meditation with Dr. Greg Serpa
- Mindfulness of Breathing Meditation
- Mindfulness of Sounds Meditation
- Compassionate Breathing Meditation
- Loving Kindness Meditation
- Body Scan Meditation
- Body Scan with Loving Kindness Phrases
VA’s ongoing #LiveWholeHealth self-care blog series will also be updated with new posted resources and video sessions that you can follow along at home.