One of the many perks of being a student in UNC’s Graduate School of Social Work is having opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. Last summer, I attended Harvard Medical School’s 10th Anniversary conference titled Meditation and Psychotherapy: The Mind, The Heart, The Person. I was in awe of all of the incredible presenters at the conference, but was most excited to hear Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based-Stress Reduction (MBSR), as well as, Dr. Daniel Goleman, psychologist, science journalist, and author of Emotional Intelligence. Dr. Kabat-Zinn spoke of the benefits of mindfulness in our seemingly competitive, frantic, and overstimulating society. He explained mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Dr. Goleman spoke of the evidence to support the rewards of mindfulness and its effects on alleviating pain, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Goleman offered empirically supported research to show other benefits of mindfulness which include the reduction of rumination, more cognitive flexibility, relationship satisfaction, decreases in emotional reactivity, and increases to working memory capacity.
How often do we, as graduate students, rush through the demands of our daily activities without being focused on what we are actually doing? In our culture of multitasking, it may be difficult to find time for reading and writing assignments, completing internships hours, checking emails, and interacting via social media. Is it possible to put down all of the juggling balls in our lives for five or ten minutes a day and bring our awareness to the present moment? Before attending the conference, I would get preoccupied with events from the past and spend hours worrying about my future. It was not unusual for me to grab a snack without being aware of eating or wonder if I put conditioner in my hair after shampooing! Did I feed my dog before leaving for class? For me, mindfulness has been a powerful tool to quiet my bustling mind. Admittedly, I am a work in progress, but I am engaging in my practice of mindfulness and encourage you to do the same. Give yourself a break, power down, be still, observe, focus, notice, and breathe.