Anxiety and Stress: Wake-Up Calls

by Andrew Safer on May 19, 2017 · 0 comments

Garrett avoids parties because he knows how uncomfortable he will be: standing around with a bunch of strangers, trying to make small talk. Ever since Rebecca heard about layoffs two weeks ago she's been distraught, afraid she’s going to lose her job. Carmen, an accountant, is overwhelmed. Her mother was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, right in the middle of tax season.

When life seems to be conspiring against us, making excuses, complaining, or looking for someone to blame doesn’t help. So how do we deal with these challenges? There are no Band-Aid solutions, but what we can do is...prepare for more of the unexpected and the unknown. One way we can do this is through mindfulness practice. We cultivate present-moment awareness, groundedness, a greater connection to the environment, non-judgment, and friendliness towards ourselves. We begin to discover that we don't need to keep running away from anxiety. We can actually get to know it, counterintuitive as that may seem. We see that it's part of life--not something to be exiled--but, at the same time, we don’t have to magnify it, adding more fuel to the fire. Awareness helps us see the habitual patterns we repeat over and over again that lead to suffering. In fact, we can start doing some things differently.

Research has shown that meditation-based mindfulness practice can be helpful for people who are experiencing stress* as well as various forms of problematic anxiety including generalized anxiety disorder**, social anxiety disorder***, and panic disorder****.

Navigating Anxiety and Stress through Mindfulness is an eight-week mindfulness-awareness meditation-based program Andrew Safer has been presenting in St. John’s, Newfoundland since 2013--recently expanded to 10 weeks. The weekly sessions meet via Zoom video conferencing, so people can participate from any location. The sessions include instruction and guidance in mindfulness-awareness meditation and mindfulness-in-everyday-life practices, discussion both in pairs and with the group, presentation on a theme, readings, and worksheet completion. Participants agree to confidentiality.

Themes include:

- Introduction to Mindfulness and Anxiety / Stress
- Key Elements of Mindfulness and Awareness
- Anxiety: Imagination vs. Reality
- Stress: Responding vs. Reacting
- Attention: Our Precious Resource
- Working with Fear and Fearlessness
- Basic Goodness: A Breath of Fresh Air

Participant comments and evaluation data indicate strong outcomes for those who have completed the program. The first live video conferencing-based series of this program, streamlined for the Web, began on May 24th. Zoom video conferencing enables anyone to participate from any location via computer, cell phone, or tablet. Questions, or to Register for a future workshop series: Contact Andrew.

*Grossman, Paul, et al., "Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis", Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol. 57, Issue 1, Jul 2004, 35-43.
**Hoffmann, Stefan, et al., "The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review", Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 78(2), Apr 2010, 169-183.
***Goldin, Philippe and Gross, James, "Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on emotion regulation in social anxiety disorder", Emotion, Vol. 10(1), Feb 2010, 83-91.
****Kim, Yong Woo, et al., "Effectiveness of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as an adjuvant to pharmacotherapy in patients with panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder", Depression and Anxiety, Vol. 26, Issue 7, Jul 2009, 601-606.

(c) Andrew Safer 2017





Juggling Uncertainty

by Andrew Safer on February 25, 2016 · 0 comments

(c) Andrew Safer 2016

Seated on the university bus
A few minutes' wait.
Three women to the left and right
With their phones
Happily occupied and free
From the uncomfortable gaps
Of silence and dead time.

"Lucky them," you think
Remembering when you were standing
Awkwardly in their shoes
Dying from self-consciousness
Now envious of their convenient escape.

Add up all those interminable anxieties
And the cellphone seems like a life-saver.
But when life doesn't go as planned,
Uncomfortable gaps can't be filled by a device
Juggling uncertainty...
You have to wonder how it will all go down.

Mindfulness and the War on Terrorism

by Andrew Safer on December 10, 2015 · 1 comment

© Andrew Safer 2015

When the story arc morphs from the Paris attacks to air strikes in Syria, it begs the question: Are we learning from the lessons of history?

Michael Flynn, who recently retired as chief of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, told a Der Spiegel reporter, “When 9/11 occurred, all the emotions took over, and our response was, ‘Where did those bastards come from? Let's go kill them. Let's go get them.’ Instead of asking why they attacked us, we asked where they came from. Then we strategically marched in the wrong direction.”

He went on to add, “Then we went into Iraq. Instead of asking ourselves why the phenomenon of terror occurred, we were looking for locations. This is a major lesson we must learn in order not to make the same mistakes again.”

It would seem that having some insight as to why these attacks are occurring should be a top priority before an appropriate response can be made. But when emotional reactivity leads the way, there is no room for clarity and insight. After the Paris attacks, the pressures on world leaders must have been enormous—pressure to do something. In our culture we are habituated to always do something, even before we know what’s really going on, so the action is often half-baked or wrong-headed. Mindfulness would be so relevant for these leaders as an ongoing practice because of the deep training it offers in the opposite approach: doing nothing initially, which is very different from passivity. Mindfulness allows for a gap—open space—during which time fixed views, agendas, beliefs, ambitions are suspended. Our innate intelligence and warmth can then lead the way.

In formal mindfulness practice, one scheme, project, problem-solving exercise, conclusion, judgment after another marches through our head—often carrying a very eye-catching sign, making the latest item into a headline that is particularly compelling. We are coached to see it all as “thinking” and to acknowledge the cast of characters non-judgmentally, as we return to the real world of breath and posture. This “boot camp” of the mind, if you will, trains us—slowly, over time—in not getting caught up in the flavour of the moment, which makes it possible to cultivate a big-picture view.

I can’t help but think that if world leaders were able to pause, putting aside all of the influences pressuring them to go to war, they could productively grapple with challenging and pertinent questions, like the one posed by Michael Flynn: “Why did the phenomenon of terror occur?” One side orchestrates targeted attacks on civilians; the other rains down destruction from the sky. A further question that could be considered is: What can we do differently that will break this cycle?