Mindfulness: 3 Tips for Practical Implementation
Mindfulness aims to increase mental resilience through paying purposeful, non-judgmental attention to the present. There are many different techniques to train mindfulness – formal training can include strategies such as breath work or body scanning, while informal techniques aim to increase mindful attention to everyday tasks.
The relatively recent influx of research on the use of mindfulness in the clinical setting supports its use as an effective, non-pharmacological strategy for the management of stress, anxiety and chronic pain. Research suggests it can have a positive influence on pain, depression and quality of life (1), with one study suggesting superior improvements in pain and function compared to usual care for chronic low back pain (2). If you want to delve deeper into the practical applications of mindfulness for pain and stress, I recommend you check out this masterclass by Shrey Vazir here.
While most practitioners are now aware of the research behind mindfulness for the management of pain, it can be difficult to know where to start in terms of practical implementation in patient care; this becomes particularly complicated when our patients are resistant to the idea of mindfulness altogether.
Below are three tips to assist clinicians in implementing mindfulness in their practice.
1) Pick your patient!
While there has been a wealth of research supporting mindfulness over the past few decades, it is important to remember, it’s not for everyone. Mindfulness can be appropriate for those people experiencing chronic pain, poor sleep, and anxiety. However, you must ensure you know your patient well; a good rapport is the essential first step before considering mindfulness as a treatment technique. The patient must also be motivated to change. Ideally, they have proven motivation through compliance with self-managed treatment programs in the past and are open to making lifestyle changes to address their condition.
Additionally, it is important to screen patients for psychological barriers to mindfulness, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which could result in a negative response to mindfulness practice. Identifying the right patient is the first step in the successful implementation of mindfulness. Shrey Vazir discusses this further, as well as how to provide trauma-informed care in his masterclass.
2) Take your time
Once you feel it may be appropriate to begin introducing mindfulness, it may be best to present it gradually. Ultimately, as with exercise, we want our patients to take up a long-term habit with mindfulness. But, like exercise, it is best to ensure a gradual build up to enable your patient the best opportunity to cultivate a habit over time.
Initial “buy-in” is essential to this process – if your patient does not see the benefit early, they are likely to become demotivated and disinterested. Start with keeping it simple by introducing one technique into an area of life which is particularly relevant to your patient. This may help to shift the perception of mindfulness from “om-ing” while cross-legged on a cushion, to something more applicable to your patient’s lifestyle.
For example, research suggests mindfulness may have a positive influence on some aspects of sleep disturbance (3) – therefore, for patients who are struggling with their sleep, introducing mindfulness strategies such as breathing techniques as a means to improve sleep quality may be a good first step in their mindfulness journey.
3) Address your patient’s concerns
As with anything, it is important to address your patient’s concerns regarding their pain, as well as mindfulness as a treatment technique. The cognitive nature of mindfulness can lead some patients to feel their pain is not validated; it’s integral to assure your patient you believe their pain is real and educate them regarding the physiological connection between mental and physical wellbeing, as well as the benefits of psychological tools for managing pain.
This can include providing them with educational content to read themselves or using relevant examples of people using mindfulness to achieve their goals. Mindfulness has been found to be the most effective psychological technique for improving mental wellbeing and has a broad efficacy for the treatment of physical illness (4). However, patient resistance often serves as the barrier. It is the task of the clinician to reassure, educate and change the perspective – the goal of mindfulness is not to rid your patient of pain altogether, but enable them to work with their pain, rather than against it.
While we as practitioners may be aware of the benefits of mindfulness for stress and chronic pain, the mere suggestion of mindfulness to our patients is often met with a negative response. The first step is to get to know your patient, identify elements of their personality and experience which may make them suitable for mindfulness practice. Introduce the concept slowly and be sure to work with your patient to address their concerns. For an in-depth understanding of how to implement mindfulness in your practice, watch Shrey Vazir’s mindfulness masterclass here.
Want to discover the power of mindfulness for managing pain?
Shrey Vazir has done a Masterclass lecture series for us on:
“The Mindfulness Revolution: Current Evidence and Practical Applications for Pain and Stress Management”
You can try Masterclass for FREE now with our 7-day trial!
- Hilton L, Hempel S, Eqing BA, Apaydin E, Xenakis L, Newberry S, Colaico B, Maher AR, Shanman RM, Sorbero ME, Maglione MA (2017) Mindfulness Meditation for Chronic Pain: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 51(2), 199-213.
- Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Balderson BH, Cook AJ, Anderson ML, Hawkes RJ, Hansen KE, Turner JA (2016) Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Journ Amer Med Assoc, 15(12), 1240-1249.
- Rusch HL, Rosario M, Levison LM, Olivera A, Livingston WS, Wu T, Gill JM (2019) The Effect of Mindfulness Meditation on Sleep Quality: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Ann N Y Acad Sci, 1445(1), 5-16.
- van Agteren, J, Iasiello, M, Lo L, Bartholomaeus J, Kopsaftis Z, Carey M, Kyrios M (2021). A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Psychological Interventions to Improve Mental Wellbeing. Nat Hum r, 5(5), 631–652.
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