Empowering Self-Care with Mindfulness
When Alexandria resident Jessica Tate used her nebulizer for asthma, she didn’t expect she’d end up calling 911. But after she began experiencing heart palpitations and her limbs became numb and heavy, she panicked.
The Alexandria Fire Department responded within minutes, and medic Karen Lopez arrived shortly afterwards. Tate, who was extremely anxious, told the responders she was pretty sure she was having an anxiety attack, something she had experienced before.
After ruling out cardiac or life threatening symptoms, Lopez turned her attention to Tate’s anxiety and offered her a couple of options: the responders could take her to the emergency room for medication or Lopez could help Tate get through the panic attack using mindfulness intervention.
Tate didn’t want to take any more medication, so she accepted Lopez’s offer for help.
“She sat on my living room floor for about 30 minutes,” Tate recalls, “coaching and calming me down.”
After several minutes, it was pretty clear to Lopez that Tate was working through her anxiety attack to the point where she no longer needed to go to the ER.
Lopez wasn’t surprised. She had seen mindfulness practices help people before as a member of the City’s Traumatic Exposure Recovery Program (TERP), which supports first responders in the Fire Department, and the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), which is comprised of highly skilled and specially-trained first responders who serve the general public.
Mindfulness involves practices of focusing attention on the present moment through meditation techniques like regulating and focusing on breathing, paying attention to body movements or sensations, and a non-judgmental awareness and acceptance of thoughts and feelings.
“There have been many studies to show that mindfulness can help ease the psychological stress of anxiety and many other disorders,” says Lopez.
Mindfulness-based practices began gaining credibility in the 1990s and early 2000s, when several studies indicated that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) reduces rates of depression relapse among patients with recurrent depression. A recent study indicated that a tapering off of medication with MBCT is as effective as an ongoing maintenance of medication.
“Learning to sit within an experience and listen to, deal with and quiet distracting thoughts, worries, fears, etc., as well as symptoms associated with anxiety have so many beneficial effects that can reduce anxiety symptoms and improve a person’s stress reactivity and coping skills,” says Lopez, “which in turn empowers people with personal skills and tools to build resilience in stressful times or challenges in their lives.”
Lopez was exposed to mindfulness at an early age by her grandmother, a Native American who treated her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren with a combination of modern and alternative medicine.
“It wasn’t until later in my life that I fully understood all of this and began to practice and follow a lifestyle of mindfulness as well as functional and integrative medicine,” reflects Lopez, who has taken classes related to mindfulness as well as holistic and naturopathic wellness.
Tate’s story thrilled Adult Intake and Mental Health Outpatient Team Leader Asta Lynch and Senior Therapist Regina McGloin.
“I am excited that supports outside of our agency are also seeing the mind body connection,” says McGloin. “It reinforces what we are focused on here—that your mind and body are one unit and we need to pay attention to both. Also, it empowers a client to get them active in their self-care.”
For Tate, the experience was just that. Mindfulness practices are now part of the support system she uses to get through her anxiety.
She is very grateful for Lopez’s offer that day. “I thank her so much for … taking the time to make sure that I was thinking clearly and that I would be okay.”
For more information about mindfulness, visit mindful.org.