Don’t worry; be happy. Live, love, laugh. Every day society offers well-meaning idioms about reducing stress. But as days shrink and “things to do” lists grow, they may not be particularly effective.
Two programs in Rochester—Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (“MBSR”) and Stress Management And Resiliency Training (“SMART”)—offer more useful advice to help a reactive, stressful mind become a focused, joyful one.
Smart About Stress
According to Dr. Amit Sood, director of research and practice in Mayo Clinic’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program and chair of the Mayo Mind Body Initiative, we experience stress when the demands placed upon us surpass our ability to respond.
In that instance, Dr. Sood says we have two options: “decrease the amount of stressors or increase your ability to handle stressors.” Often, we are unable to decrease our external stressors, but neuroscience and Dr. Sood are learning we have untapped potential in handling them.
“The reality is that the actual events may or may not be amendable to change,” writes Sood, who developed the SMART program. “You, however, always have the option to control your perception and response. Resiliency is your ability to handle stress and bounce back.”
Consequently, SMART teaches participants how to rewire (or right-wire) the brain to increase resiliency so they can manage stress more effectively.
SMART explains that the brain contains two important functional modes: 1. focused mode (which attends to novel, pleasurable and meaningful things in the external world) and 2. default mode (i.e., “the wandering mind” which worries and ruminates). Adults switch between these modes all day long but are in default mode anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the time.
“Our basic instinct is to worry,” says Sood. “We wake up thinking, ‘what’s not working’ instead of waking with gratitude for what is working.”
Neuroscience has shown that the longer one stays in default mode, worries begin to dominate the mind, making it difficult to find peace.
“Excessive engagement [in default mode],” writes Sood, “is associated with stress, anxiety, depression and attention deficit.”
The reverse is true, however, for time spent in focused mode. This enhances attention, decreases stress and cultivates resilience, peace and even joy.
The SMART program, among other things, helps participants learn how to stay in focused mode. It utilizes journaling and daily exercises for paying attention to life as it is right now. Doing things such as waking up with gratitude, spending 20 minutes in nature paying attention to one thing it offers at that moment and greeting loved ones every day as if you are seeing them for the first time in 10 days.
SMART is offered at Mayo Clinic via a primary physician reference to the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program. It is also taught through a Rochester Community Education course called Stress Management 101. It has completed eight clinical trials at Mayo Clinic and is currently undergoing 15 more and has been found effective in helping patients handle stress and illness. For more information on SMART, contact Debbie Fuehrer at email@example.com.