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What Is Mindfulness and How Can It Help Us?

Learn how this ancient practice can benefit you today as you earn your health education and promotion degree, and later in your career as a health educator.

ABC anchor and reporter Dan Harris calls it the worst day of his life. He was in the middle of a Good Morning America segment when he experienced a panic attack. This personal wake-up call sent him down a path of exploration that led to mindfulness, a practice he says has made him “roughly 10% percent happier.”1

Mindfulness has ancient roots in world religions but today is also in the mainstream as a secular practice for millions of individuals seeking to decrease stress symptoms, improve concentration, and lessen anxiety. People who make time to practice mindfulness say the benefits can be life-changing. Medical schools and universities fund mindfulness centers and research. Global health education programs teach mindfulness, and health educators offer classes in hospitals and community centers. There are apps, like Calm and Headspace, and books, like Harris’ 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story.

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What Is Mindfulness?

Simply put, mindfulness is paying attention to what’s happening right now. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a pioneer in the field who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, defines mindfulness as “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment to moment.”2 Harris says it’s “pressing the mute button on the voice in my head.”1 Neuroscientist Amishi Jha calls it a “portable brain fitness routine to keep our attention strong.”3

Cultivating an awareness of what’s happening in the moment can be a challenge for most people, particularly in this age of multitasking and digital distraction. Research shows our minds wander almost 50% of the time.4 “These might be small, little trips that we take away, private thoughts that we have,” Jha says. “And when this mind-wandering happens, it can be problematic. … Imagine a military leader missing four minutes of a military briefing, or a judge missing four minutes of testimony. Or a surgeon or firefighter missing any time. The consequences in those cases could be dire.”4

How Do I Cultivate Mindfulness?

To get in shape, we exercise our bodies. To become more mindful, we exercise or train our brains. Practitioners frequently use guided meditations to help learn how to quiet the mind. You can find these on mindfulness apps and online, and many are free to stream or download. (Mindful.org is a good resource on all things mindfulness.) You can start with something short; you’ll find many guided meditations that are 3 minutes long. One of the biggest misconceptions is that you must sit cross-legged on the floor or chant while meditating. Not at all.

Still, if the thought of meditation seems off-putting or “woo-woo,” try this: Stop what you’re doing for a minute. Find a quiet spot and settle into a chair, feet on the floor and arms by your side. Softly close your eyes and begin to focus on the sensation of breathing through your nose—in, out, in, out. When your mind starts to wander, gently bring your attention back to your breathing. After a minute or two, open your eyes. There. You’ve done your first mindfulness meditation.

Here are other exercises you can try:

  • Select one of your daily activities and do it mindfully. Some examples: brushing your teeth, doing a household chore, or working in your yard. Bring your attention to the task.
  • Go for a short walk, mindfully. Walk slowly, focus on your breathing, let thoughts come and go. Don’t try this one on a busy city street.
  • Eat mindfully. Got raisins? A popular exercise is to pick up a raisin and carefully examine it using your senses. What does it feel like? What does it smell like? Take a small nibble to experience the taste and texture. If you don’t like raisins, how about a piece of chocolate?
  • Set a timer. Use it as a reminder throughout your work or school day to take one mindful breath.
  • Single-task. Make a conscious effort to do one thing at a time.

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

Experts say while mindfulness is not a panacea for all medical and psychological conditions, there is a growing body of research to support its beneficial effects. The UMass Center for Mindfulness (CFM), where over 22,000 people have taken MBSR training, credits the practice with helping individuals who experience:2

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Cancer and chronic disease
  • Work, family, and emotional stress 
  • Eating disturbances
  • Heart disease
  • Sleeplessness 

After completing a CFM stress reduction course, participants reported a 38% reduction in medical symptoms, a 43% reduction in psychological and emotional distress, and a 26% reduction in perceived stress.2

Who Is Mindfulness for?

Mindfulness is for anyone who wants to learn to reduce distractibility and cultivate a sense of well-being. Practitioners include college students, corporate executives, first responders, members of the U.S. armed forces, athletes, and entertainers.

Says ABC’s Harris, “If it can work for a fidgety, skeptical newsman, maybe you too should give it a shot.”1

Mindfulness and Health Education and Promotion

Mindfulness can be a useful tool for working professionals, busy and fully engaged in life as they earn a degree online. You may be particularly interested in the practice if you’re pursuing an MS in Health Education and Promotion.

What is health education and promotion? Graduates of this degree program are health educators who work to improve health outcomes for individuals, families, organizations, and communities. Their duties include:

  • Assessing needs
  • Planning, implementing, and evaluating health education programs
  • Coordinating health education services
  • Advocating for special health issues

You may find health educators leading mindfulness classes, providing diabetes education, creating healthcare programs on college campuses, and working in public health jobs collecting data, designing wellness campaigns, and crafting public policy. Settings for careers in health education and promotion include nonprofit organizations, community health agencies, state and local health departments, businesses and corporations, faith-based organizations, and hospitals and clinics. Today’s heightened focus on wellness and ongoing efforts to reduce healthcare expenses have created an expanding job market for health educators. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that government and business will add an additional 19,200 jobs by 2026.5

Where Can I Earn a Degree?

Walden University is one of the few accredited universities offering an MS in Health Education and Promotion online. Students may choose the general program or one of five optional specializations: Emergency Preparedness, Health Policy and Advocacy, Population Health, Self-Designed, or Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Walden’s online master’s in health education and promotion degree program is the perfect choice for working professionals because it gives you the flexibility to log in to the classroom when and where you want. Earn a degree while engaged in your career and spending your free time your way—with family and friends, enjoying hobbies, and perhaps, practicing mindfulness meditation. A master’s in health education and promotion online can prepare you for a growing industry with abundant job opportunities. Choose your program and get ready to lead communities and individuals to a wellness-fueled future.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Health Education and Promotion degree program with five relevant specializations. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

1Source: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sXBEfIXUno
2Source: www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mindfulness-in-medicine/intro-to-mindfulness/
3Source: https://ideas.ted.com/4-simple-exercises-to-strengthen-your-attention-and-reduce-distractibility/
4Source: www.ted.com/talks/amishi_jha_how_to_tame_your_wandering_mind/transcript
5Source: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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