Meditation gets even more support from neuroscience

I found this study fascinating. It supports my own personal experience with meditation. The first year I had a daily meditation practice I had severe problems with my lower back. For over a year I had times when lower back spasms would prevent me from standing up and I would have to crawl to my chair to meditate. Each time I began my daily practice the very first thought I had was, ‘this will never work, I’m in too much pain to sit here and meditate!” Yet, a half hour would pass and I would not have been focused on my pain at all. When the meditation period was over I would be so surprised that I had become so calm and relaxed, despite the pain. I could feel the area had relaxed more, and could feel a kind of warm tingling sensation, telling me circulation in the area had increased. I was amazed that I hadn’t struggled against the pain, I had not suffered. This experience was repeated many times, and funnily enough, despite already knowing how helpful and effective it was to meditate while in pain, my mind would always initially offer up this thought, ‘this will never work, I’m in too much pain!” Many of my clients with persistent pain have had a similar experience as they learned to meditate.

Ever noticed how unreliable thoughts can be in predicting how you will react, respond, feel…next!!??!!

Enjoy the article! (hat tip to friend & colleague Rita Benn, for passing this on)

GB

Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. The Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 31, April 6, 2011

Meditators can concentrate the hurt away: Volunteers felt less pain while practicing mindfulness By Daniel Strain   Web edition : Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

If a tree falls on you in the forest while you’re meditating, does it still hurt?

Well, yes. But maybe not quite as much as it would if you weren’t meditating, researchers from North Carolina and Wisconsin report in the April 6 Journal of Neuroscience. Individuals who practiced mindfulness meditation, or samatha, during a pain experiment reported much less discomfort than they did in earlier, meditation-free sessions. Samatha, the team says, flipped switches on or off in diverse regions of the brain underlying attention, expectation and even the awareness of thoughts themselves.

Getting hit by a tree limb will hurt, but it won’t hurt everyone in the same way, says study coauthor Robert Coghill, a neuroscientist at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. The conscious mind, which is informed by personal experience and context, is an expert at deciding which sensations to take note of and which to ignore. “All the time we’re hanging out, our brain is being bombarded with all sorts of information,” he says. “But we let it go.” A falling tree is more jarring than the tickle of a forearm hair, but meditation may help people to similarly let “ouch!” and “yowza!” reflexes go.

In the study, Coghill and his colleagues prodded 15 volunteers with a hot poker of sorts, then used MRI to watch their brains respond to the hot but humane torture. Subjects found the 49⁰ Celsius pulses, on average, 57 percent less unpleasant and 40 percent less intense while meditating as opposed to resting normally.

Study coauthor Fadel Zeidan, himself a meditation practitioner for over a decade, taught the newbie subjects mindfulness meditation. In just four 20 minute sessions, the dilettantes got a crash course in how to focus their attention on their breathing without becoming derailed by sore bottoms or anxious thoughts.

Meditation, often associated with tranquility, in fact lights up parts of the brain like a Christmas tree. The anterior insula, for instance, which lies in a deep fold on the side of the brain and has been associated with sensing heat, cold and pain, shined bright in the meditation experiments. This region may also preside over the awareness of thoughts themselves, says Zeidan, a cognitive neuroscientist also at Wake Forest. If you’ve ever suppressed the desire to honk your horn rudely in traffic, you may have your anterior insula to thank. “The meditators were able to take a step back from their thoughts and look at them for what they were,” he says.

Parts of the thalamus, on the other hand, flicked off during meditation. The thalamus filters the endless trains of sensory signals arriving to the brain from the body. Meditation could, then, ensure that fewer ouch-inducing signals reach the conscious mind in the first place.

This study illustrates what a powerful pain reliever psychology can be, says Donald Price, who researches pain and the placebo effect at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In some cases, changing a patient’s outlook on pain can be just as soothing as certain doses of morphine. But, he admits, most doctors and nurses don’t have the time to turn the lights down low and lead meditation sessions.

F. Zeidan et al. Brain Mechanisms Supporting the Modulation of Pain by Mindfulness Meditation. The Journal of Neuroscience. Vol. 31, April 6, 2011, p. 5540. doi: 10.1523/NEUROSCI.5791-10.2011.

Announcing Spring 2011 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program

This is a the link to a <5 minute video that you can watch simply by clicking on it. It will provide you with more information about the approach and the logistics about the Spring 2011 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program:

Click here to watch video

Greetings! Registration is underway for the Spring 2011 Stress Reduction Program. This is a wonderful, intensive, highly effective program for anyone who wants to further enhance their ability to manage stress, illness, pain…in other words,  the human experience!

Participants come from all walks of life, and with a variety of challenges in their life, including: general stress, stress-related medical problems (such as insomnia, high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches) and uncomfortably high levels of tension or anxiety. This can be a powerful approach for those needing to manage their anger better, and those who suffer from panic attacks. It is a very helpful program for individuals challenged by chronic or terminal illness who wish to feel less ‘oppressed’ by such a significant challenge, and those wanting to learn to avoid relapse into depression. Included in the program are new understandings about emotional regulation, and ‘emotional intelligence’, and some of the most powerful knowledge from cognitive therapy. Each of the 8 sessions plus the daylong session are times when we explore our human nature, and practice mindfulness techniques together.

I’ve made the video orientation (see link above) to give you as much info as possible in a short period of time. Please call or email me if you wish to register or need additional information: mailto:glenn@glennburdick.com (please make sure to include your email address in the message) or call (734) 395-2122.

All the best to you,

Glenn Burdick

 

 

Announcing Fall 2010 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program – Begins 9/29

Here’s a link to a <5 minute video of the upcoming Spring 2011 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program!http://richard11.app.knoodle.com/main/classroom.u?learningObjectID2=ba4e941751c6446aa2eb90dc6c60a398

 

Greetings! Registration is underway for the Spring 2011 Stress Reduction Program. This is a wonderful, intensive, highly effective program for anyone who wants to further enhance their ability to manage stress, illness, pain…in other words,  the human experience!

Participants come from all walks of life, and with a variety of challenges in their life, including: general stress, stress-related medical problems (such as insomnia, high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches) and uncomfortably high levels of tension or anxiety. This can be a powerful approach for those needing to manage their anger better, and those who suffer from panic attacks. It is a very helpful program for individuals challenged by chronic or terminal illness who wish to feel less ‘oppressed’ by such a significant challenge, and those wanting to learn to avoid relapse into depression. Included in the program are new understandings about emotional regulation, and ‘emotional intelligence’, and some of the most powerful knowledge from cognitive therapy. Each of the 8 sessions plus the daylong session are times when we explore our human nature, and practice mindfulness techniques together.

I’ve made the video orientation (see link above) to give you as much info as possible in a short period of time. Please call or email me if you wish to register or need additional information: mailto:glenn@glennburdick.com (please make sure to include your email address in the message) or call (734) 395-2122.

All the best to you,

Glenn Burdick

MINDFULNESS-BASED STRESS REDUCTION PROGRAM – BEGINS 9/29/10

“An excellent program. The compassion and gentle teachings made this program a priceless experience…I’m feeling happiness and optimism about life for the first time in a very long time!”

Participating in this program can make a big difference in your life, no matter what is going on for you! FOR MORE INFORMATION EMAIL: glenn@glennburdick.com Or Call: (734) 395-2122 –Glenn Burdick

“This course was great! It helped me get healthy in the way I’ve wanted to for a long time. I’m surprised how much mindfulness helps!

‘My Anxiety Treatment Toolbox’

This blog post is the eigth in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link: http://www.glennburdick.com/anxiety_help.htm

My Anxiety Treatment Toolbox

In addition to introducing The Five Steps, It is also important that I help my clients become skilled at deep relaxation. This enhances their ability to identify the thoughts that are worrying or scaring them while they are arising, and makes it much easier to let go of mounting levels of fear or anxiety at that moment.

For that reason, I like to teach my clients meditation, which can help them to both relax physically and mentally, and experience states of peace and calmness on a regular basis. This can help a great deal for people with generally high levels of anxiety or worry.

I also employ techniques that have become known as ‘energy psychology’. These techniques involve certain patterns of tapping on acupuncture meridian points (EFT – Emotional Freedom Technique) or bi-laterally stimulating the brain through particular eye movements (EMDR – Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), and can help reduce the influence of past experiences and memories on present coping, as well as helping to develop more powerful present moment coping abilities.

Finally, in some instances I will utilize hypnosis to help my clients to more readily reach deep levels of relaxation, and gain the additional benefit of the subconscious mind in helping make the move towards genuinely accepting your anxiety more rapid and automatic.

I have outlined the steps I consider to be essential to self-managing anxiety successfully. If you take these steps when you are experiencing anxiety, whether moderate or severe, you should see a real difference in how it progresses. Individuals’ ability to complete these steps on their own will vary.

A number of people find that anxiety management techniques are all they need to learn and they will be able to successfully implement the steps on their own. Others will require a brief period of support from a licensed psychotherapist, such as myself, who is very experienced in working with clients with anxiety disorders. This additional support will help fine tune the process and ensure that you implement the steps effectively.

It is highly likely that individuals suffering with Simple Phobia, OCD, & PTSD will require the support of a licensed psychotherapist. In the first instance, Simple Phobia, the anxiety is absent except in the presence of a particular feared real-life situation, for example, a snake, standing on a high platform, sitting on an airplane. While the general principles I’ve outlined above still hold, there are very focused and powerful techniques available to directly eliminate such phobias.

With OCD there will be the need to focus on both the anxiety that triggers the obsessive thinking & the compulsive behaviors, which is complicated enough to require additional therapeutic support.

In the case of PTSD an individual has typically had a real life experience in a very dangerous situation and experienced some of the highest possible levels of fear, often in the context where it was possible, or the individual believed it was possible that their life was at its end.

For many years there was little help available for individuals suffering from PTSD. However, in the last several years techniques have been developed that can be highly effective in permanently reducing the associated symptoms and memories. For this reason, the support of a licensed psychotherapist with the proper training is really essential.

Finally, in severe and persistent Panic Disorder, as well as OCD and PTSD, there may be potential additional benefit from taking certain medications at the same time that self-management strategies are being implemented. Many physicians will require their patient to be working with a licensed psychotherapist in order for them to prescribe these medications.

(photo credit: life serial)

‘The Five Steps to Managing Anxiety’

This blog post is the seventh in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link: http://www.glennburdick.com/anxiety_help.htm

The Five Steps to Managing Anxiety

Now, with the physical exam out of the way, we can focus on what I consider to be the general principles for coping with anxiety. I have coined these as The Five Steps, as they are always involved in working effectively with anxiety disorders. I, myself, employed them for overcoming my social anxiety, and they form the foundation of my work with clients:

  • Be willing to feel your fear
  • Relax your resistance to the experience of fear in your body
  • Accept your discomfort as distressing but not dangerous
  • Regulate your breath, preventing hyperventilation and move your body
  • Begin to say ‘yes’ to what you have been avoiding all this time

Remember that what you resist persists. On the other hand, if you are willing to feel the very uncomfortable sensations of anxiety for a few minutes and not attempt to distract yourself, numb yourself, or run away from the experience, it will begin to level off and diminish within a few minutes. Remind yourself that the feelings are certainly distressing, but anxiety is not dangerous, so there is no risk in staying put, and there is no real need for alarm.

Now, quite often as anxiety and fear increase your breathing will start to become shallow and rapid. Lengthen your breath so that each inhalation and each exhalation takes 3-4 full seconds, and move your body to interfere with the tendency to move towards hyperventilation.

As you have some successes shortening the periods of anxiety that develop you must stop avoiding the previously avoided situations. Otherwise, each time you avoid or run from the feared situation, your fear and tendency to avoid the situation becomes a little stronger. Most people find it easiest to begin doing this in their imagination.

There is a process I employ with clients called ‘covert rehearsal’ in which you repeatedly imagine yourself in the feared situation, beginning to feel the anxiety mounting, and successfully employing the five steps. You then progress to putting yourself in the actual situation, a little bit at a time, while employing the five steps.

Next post in this series: “My Anxiety Treatment Toolbox

(photo credit: TuTuWoN)

The ‘How To’ of Anxiety Self-Management

This blog post is the sixth in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link: http://www.glennburdick.com/anxiety_help.htm

The ‘How To’ of Anxiety Self-Management

Of course, what you really care about is the ‘how to’ of getting your anxiety under control, and not the academic typology and research on anxiety. To sum up the majority of research studies on treating anxiety disorders, what works best in most cases is: learning to be aware of and modifying the anxious thoughts that are telling your brain that danger is at hand; learn to increasingly tolerate the uncomfortable sensations that arise; gradually exposing yourself to the feared situation. That is the simple, but not easy, path that is usually the most effective approach to diminishing the grip anxiety has on your life.

Before moving on to my particular treatment approach for helping clients with anxiety problems I want to say that all anxiety treatment should begin with a good physical exam with your primary care doctor. This is because, while rare, there are a handful of medical problems & medication side effects that can cause high levels of anxiety or panic.

For instance, hyperthyroidism and hypoglycemia can cause panic attacks, as can deficiencies of certain minerals, and certain kinds of allergies. You don’t want to embark on a self-management strategy when an appropriate medical intervention might remove the cause of the anxiety or panic altogether.

Along similar lines, there is some pretty good indication that consumption of stimulating substances such as caffeine and sugar may contribute to higher levels of anxiety in certain individuals. You may want to cut back on these substances and notice the effects it has on you if you reintroduce them.

This would be a great topic to discuss with your physician, who may also recommend other lifestyle changes and nutritional suggestions. Please don’t skip this step!

Next post in this series: “The Five Steps To Managing Anxiety

‘The Anxiety Disorders’

This blog post is the fifth in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link: http://www.glennburdick.com/anxiety_help.htm

The ‘Anxiety Disorders’

For the record, there are officially seven main types of anxiety disorder, and as you’ll see, we have so far addressed elements that are common to all of them, and the general dynamics of the first four: Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia, and Agoraphobia.

All of these are considered anxiety ‘disorders’ because there is no current life-threatening situation present when we experience the fear/anxiety. Nonetheless, it feels very much like there is, and therefore we engage in efforts to escape or avoid the feared situation, often disrupting the flow of our lives in a significant way.

Can you find yourself in these descriptions somewhere? Here is the official list:

  • Panic Disorder: characterized by sudden episodes of acute apprehension or intense fear that occurs ‘out of the blue’ without any apparent cause. Symptoms may include: shortness of breath or a feeling of being smothered; heart palpitations; dizziness, unsteadiness, or faintness; trembling or shaking; choking; sweating; nausea or abdominal distress; feeling of unreality; numbness or tingling in hands ad feet’; hot and cold flashes; chest pain or discomfort; fears of going crazy or losing control.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: this is pretty much constant anxiety that is unaccompanied by panic, phobias or obsessions. Fears may relate to losing control, failure, rejection or abandonment, death and disease, going crazy.
  • Social Phobia: this involves fear or embarrassment or humiliation in situations where you are exposed to the scrutiny of others or must perform in some way. The fear is so strong that individuals typically avoid the situation altogether.
  • Agoraphobia: the word itself means fear of open spaces, but it pretty much boils down to fear of having a panic attack in situations where escape might be difficult, such as in a store. Fear of embarrassment plays a role, as in what other people will think of you if you are seen having a panic
  • Simple Phobia: this involves a strong fear and avoidance of a particular situation or object. It doesn’t involve fear of panic attacks or fear of being embarrassed or humiliated. Some such fears include fear of particular animals, heights, enclosed places like elevators or airplanes, fear of dentist or doctors’ offices, fear of thunder or lightning, fear of injury or illness.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: obsessions involve recurring ideas, thoughts, images or impulses that seem nonsensical but intrude in your mind on a pretty continuous basis. Compulsions are behaviors or rituals performed in an attempt to rid you of the anxiety brought up by the obsessions.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: this is brought on after exposure to severe trauma that produces intense fear, terror, and feelings of helplessness, such as experienced in a car crash or in wartime. These symptoms can persist for years, and are typically, triggered by memories of the past situation arising in waking consciousness or in dreams.

Additional resources on anxiety & panic disorder:

http://www.adaa.org/AboutADAA/PressRoom/Stats&Facts.asp

Next post in this series: “The How To Of Anxiety Self-Management

(photo credit: LunaDiRimmel)

‘What We Resist Persists!’

This blog post is the fourth in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link: http://www.glennburdick.com/anxiety_help.htm

‘What we resist persists!’

As a clinician with 30 years of experience I have worked with a great many people struggling with uncomfortable levels of anxiety and even panic. I have great empathy for their plight, given my own personal encounter with a fear of public speaking, a form of social anxiety that plagued me all the way into my late 20’s.

The very thought of getting up in front of any size group of people (even six!) terrified me, and I almost always found a way to avoid such situations. If I had to give a talk, my heart would be pounding in my chest; I would be feeling a significant level of fear, palms sweaty, approaching panic, wishing I was anywhere else in the world at that time. I dreaded the possibility of embarrassing myself in front of others, or even being humiliated (both concerns of social anxiety).

As I’m sure you can imagine, I said ‘NO!’ to any requests of me to give a presentation, which reinforced my fear & feeling of being powerless in the face of it. However, when I accepted my first professional job, which I was very excited to begin, I was told that I would be giving public talks as part of my new job. The jig was up. I had to figure out how to overcome my public speaking anxiety.

Fortunately for me, I had studied the nature of anxiety disorders and their treatment and the related research in Clinical Psychology graduate school. I intellectually understood the facts that I am sharing with you in this article. Now I had to ‘walk my talk’.

I understood that I had to be willing to feel fear and feel like fleeing the event while at the same time beginning my presentation, and that by doing so the anxiety would begin to diminish. I knew that I could ‘take the edge off’ of the anxiety by regulating my breath and moving my body while speaking.

Most powerfully of all, I put my faith in the knowledge that accepting my discomfort and fear as distressing but NOT dangerous, and relaxing my resistance to feeling that way would stop the anxiety from escalating further, and would allow it to level off and begin to fade away. I began to say ‘yes’ to invitations to speak in public, knowing full well that I would have to endure several minutes of feeling afraid, but that I would then quickly grow comfortable.

Ultimately, I discovered a part of me I call my ‘inner ham’, a part that actually enjoys being up in front of a group of people. I went on to present at numerous medical conferences at highly prestigious institutions, each time being among the most highly rated presenters by the participants. Confronting my fear of being embarrassed or humiliated in front of the public led to my involvement in a weekly live radio show, and co-authoring a weekly health & wellness column in the Ann Arbor News.

Enough about me! I just wanted you to know that I can truly relate to what you are experiencing, and that I have personally put into practice in moments of intense anxiety the information and techniques I am writing about in this article.

So far in this article I have addressed the range of anxiety from helpful levels of worry, all the way to escalating anxiety and panic. You learned that anxiety is a normal part of our ‘fight or flight’ response (the ‘flight’ part), and that it is not dangerous. Nature meant for fear to be uncomfortable and to drive us into life saving activity.

You have also learned that if a high level of anxiety is experienced in the absence of an obvious clear and present danger, you can quickly escalate the level of anxiety, even to the point of panic or a trip to the emergency room thinking we are having a heart attack.

Next post in this series: “The Anxiety Disorders

“Panic: When Anxiety Itself Is the Threat”

This blog post is the third in a series of posts that are excerpts from my full length published article, ‘Five Simple Steps To Managing Anxiety’ available for immediate download from my website by this link: http://www.glennburdick.com/anxiety_help.htm

Panic: When Anxiety Itself Is the Threat

Depending on just how threatened a person feels about a situation, the level of anxiety triggered can be anywhere from ‘nagging’ or ‘annoying’ to outright panic. If your survival substances are released but you are not aware of any real danger at the time this can cause you to feel even more alarmed, thus releasing even more of the same. It’s as if the brain says, ‘with all of this fear there must be a real life-threatening danger at hand!”

Some people will fear that this feeling will continue escalating without end, and that they might pass out, or go crazy. Others focus on the physical sensations triggered, such as pounding heart, shallow, rapid breathing, tightness in the chest, feeling dizzy, etc.

Many people head for the emergency room when these sensations are present, fearing a heart attack or stroke is in process. In fact, some experts believe the symptoms of up to 50% of individuals visiting an emergency room concerned that they are having a heart attack are really caused by stress or anxiety and not any serious physical problem.

Everyone has a threshold of anxiety beyond which they get motivated to do something about it. The bottom line is this: If you believe your anxiety will keep escalating until you pass out, have a heart attack or go crazy, you inadvertently trigger a panic attack. Who wouldn’t be alarmed if they believed one of those outcomes was really about to happen?

Next post in this series: “What We Resist, Persists

(photo credit: JAMALadi)