VIDEO: How Mindfulness Can Help Reduce Stress, Improve Heart Health

MDVIP-affiliated physician Dr. Lewis Weiner discusses the role mindfulness can play in stress relief and heart health. 


The role that stress plays in heart disease is becoming increasingly apparent as studies evolve and we understand the science better. People who are not applying tools of self care, not getting balance, not sleeping, not breathing, not taking time to enjoy and manage their lives in a civilized way are in fact adding risk. I think people understand that stress is a trigger for heart risk and they know when they feel stressed, but I think people often feel powerless to change it. 

Those people are coping with a chronic level of stress. They may not be aware of it or they may not attribute their symptoms and their lack of wellness to stress.

Once we identify that a patient has symptoms of stress or that their life is inherently stressful, that may be self reported by the patient or it may have come up as a product of taking a history, then I will sit with that patient to try to question opportunities for change. 

My experience with my patients when we talk about mindfulness is they're excited to know that their physician is oriented to something not just pharmacologic but that there is a simple tool, a lifestyle tool, a portable tool that all of them can access in their lives every day. 

Often it's as basic as the awareness of the situation. Mindfulness is often defined as a non-reactive and nonjudgmental awareness of what's going on around us. That can be everything from how we eat to how we talk to others, to how we experience our day and our work, our ability to experience gratefulness, to slow down, to stop to give ourselves permission for self care is all part of that process.

There is increasingly prevalent literature about mindfulness in medicine. We know that it's potentially affective at reducing the progression to hypertension, that it can reduce risk for heart disease and that there is even data on it helping with dementia. 

When we are rushing and stressed, often there's a sense of being disconnected, of being reactive, of being depersonalized, removed from our environment. If we stop long enough to take a breathe - and breathing is a very fundamental tool for mindfulness, for meditation - that connection to ourselves helps create a little-bit of space and distance from what's going on around us. So, taking deep cleansing breathes in a few moments is very helpful. Being seated and still, very important. A basic practice that i is a ten minute sitting meditation. It is not necessarily a guided meditation. It is a secular practice. It's about just stopping. And we can do this in the car, we can do it at home, we can do it during work. Just ten minutes to disconnect and be quiet, and not read, and not listen to music, and not do, but just be. And many of us are not comfortable or easily able to do that. 

If we can stop and take that kind of an inventory on a regular basis I think there's a huge benefit for the health of the patient and for ourselves as their physicians.

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