Improve Teacher Well-Being with Mindfulness

“The connection between mindfulness and education is both natural and fundamentally important, now more than ever.  The difference between a good teacher and a great teacher, it is often that ineffable quality that you know but cannot pin down in words.”  – The Mindful teacher


Teaching is a stressful profession causing many to burn out and leave the profession. A recent survey found that roughly half a million U.S. teachers move or leave the profession each year. That’s a turnover rate of about 20 percent compared to 9 percent in 2009. Indeed, anywhere from 40 and 50 percent of teachers will leave the classroom within their first five years, with over nine percent leaving before the end of their first year.


The high stress of the occupation shows up in higher rates of anxiety disorders, but particularly in physical ailments, with higher rates of laryngitis, conjunctivitis, lower urinary tract infections, bronchitis, eczema/dermatitis and varicose veins in female teachers. There is a pressing need to retain good teachers. So, it has become very important to identify means to help relieve the stress and lower burnout rates.


Mindfulness has been shown repeatedly to decrease physiological and psychological responses to stress (see and Mindfulness has also been shown to help improve performance and relieve stress in students (see and In addition, mindfulness has been shown to decrease burnout in the medical profession (see So, it would seem reasonable to suspect that mindfulness training would help teachers to reduce stress, the consequent physical symptoms, and burnout.


In today’s Research News article “The Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Educator Stress and Well-Being: Results from a Pilot Study”

Frank and colleagues investigate the effectiveness of a mindfulness -based stress reduction (MBSR) program to improve high school teacher stress and well-being. They found that MBSR produced significant improvement in emotion regulation, self-kindness, mindfulness, overall self-compassion, and sleep quality in comparison to a no-treatment control group.


Hence it appears that MBSR is effective in improving well-being and reducing stress in high school teachers. Of course, more research is needed particularly with randomly assigned active control conditions and long term follow-up. But, these results are very promising. Given the importance of education to the well-being of our entire society, helping to relieve the problems experienced by teachers has to be a high priority.


This as well as research with students points to a development of a total mindful environment in education, where both students and teachers are trained in mindfulness and mindfulness practice is incorporated in the school day. The research suggests that this could have a major positive effect on education.


So, teach and learn with mindfulness


“I had decided that this would be my last year teaching until the mindfulness program began at my school. Now I am rededicated to my profession.”Teacher, East Oakland


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


Headaches are a Headache – Reduce them with Mindfulness

“To diminish the suffering of pain, we need to make a crucial distinction between the pain of pain, and the pain we create by our thoughts about the pain. Fear, anger, guilt, loneliness and helplessness are all mental and emotional responses that can intensify pain.” ~Howard Cutler


Headaches are a headache and can be disruptive to our productivity and happiness. The most common form of headache is tension headache constituting 90% of all headaches. Occasional headache is a common ailment but when it becomes chronic it can be quite disruptive to the sufferer’s life. Chronic tension headaches affect about 3% of the population.


It has been demonstrated that mindfulness training can help with a wide variety of types and sources of pain, for example it has been found to be effective for fibromyalgia pain, a particularly difficult pain to treat. It has also been shown to be effective for migraine headaches.


In today’s Research News article “Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Pain Severity and Mindful Awareness in Patients with Tension Headache: A Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial”

Omidi and Zargar test the application of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for chronic tension headache pain. They found that MBSR produced a clinically significant reduction in pain and also increased mindfulness in these patients.


There are a number of ways that MBSR training could be producing the reduction in tension headache pain. MBSR was designed for the reduction of stress and has been shown to be very effective. Since, tension headaches are often precipitated or amplified by stress, the reduction in responsivity to stress produced by MBSR would be expected to help reduce pain.


Pain itself can amplify pain by producing a fear of pain which can cause the individual to not only suffer from the current pain but add to it with worry about future pain. Many pain patients ruminate about their past pain which can also produce worry and stress and make pain worse. Indeed, meditation has been shown to reduce pain by decreasing catastrophizing. (see By helping the individual focus on the present moment mindfulness training can reduce the rumination about past pain and the expectation of future pain, reducing currently experienced pain.


Mindfulness is known to affect the brain’s processing of pain stimuli, blunting the neural activity associated with pain. This by itself could be responsible for the reduction in tension headache pain. Mindfulness also increases relaxation and reduces activity of the segment of the peripheral nervous system that’s responsible for activation and tension. This reduces the response to pain allowing greater relaxation and less pain. Mindfulness also increases awareness of one’s internal state. This self-monitoring could lead to better self-care and early intervention for a tension headache. Finally, mindfulness improves emotion regulation. It allows the individual to more effectively respond to emotions. This would include the emotions elicited by pain and those that can precipitate a tension headache. In this way, responses to pain and the intensity of the pain can be mitigated.


Regardless of the mechanism, mindfulness training is clearly an effective strategy for dealing with chronic tension headache pain. It remains to be seen if a simpler mindfulness training than MBSR might also be effective. MBSR requires a considerable commitment of time and energy and the presence of an instructor. This is not always practicable with the busy lives that many people lead. So, it would be better if a simpler training would be equally effective.


So practice mindfulness and make a headache less of a headache.


“When our pain is held by mindfulness it loses some of its strength.”Thich Nhat Hanh


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

Mindfulness and Recovery from Brain Injury

Brain damage is more or less permanent. The neurons and neural structures that are destroyed when the brain is damaged for the most part do not regrow. Acquired Brain Injury is a form of brain damage caused by a number of different events from a violent blow to the head (Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI), to gunshot wounds, to tumors and strokes. There are many causes of this including car accidents, warfare, violent disputes, cancer, etc.. Regardless of the cause, the brain is damaged, and the areas that are destroyed are permanently lost.

But, we know that people can recover to some extent from brain injury.  How is it possible that recovery can occur when there is no replacement of the damaged tissue? There appears to be a number of strategies that are employed by the brain to assist in recovery. Other areas of the brain can take over some of the function, other behavioral strategies can be employed to accomplish the task, and non-injured areas of the brain can adapt and change to compensate for the lost function.

In today’s article “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Delivered Live on the Internet to Individuals Suffering from Mental Fatigue After an Acquired Brain Injury

MBSR is shown to assist in recovery from a particularly troublesome symptom of brain injury, long-lasting mental fatigue. For brain injury victims engaging in mental activities takes tremendous energy and the individual tires (fatigues) quickly. We can theorize that this fatigue comes from having to employ less efficient alternative methods to perform mental tasks that take more energy.

How does MBSR help? It can actually change the brain and make it more efficient in processing mental tasks. It has been shown that mindfulness training can increase the size and connectivity of areas of the brain responsible for focused attention while decreasing the size and connectivity of areas responsible for mind wandering and attentional lapses. By limiting intrusive thoughts, mindfulness improves attentional ability and even memory function.

MBSR can also decrease the emotional reactions of frustration and anger that can occur as a result of struggling to perform a mental task. This can remove an interfering and fatiguing consequence of the disability produced by brain injury. This in turn reduces the energy expended to accomplish the task.

So, mindfulness training can assist the brain injury sufferer by restructuring the uninjured brain tissue to allow for better focused attention and also by reducing emotional reactions to the difficulties. This allows the victim to better engage in mental activities. In essence, it doesn’t heal the damaged tissue, rather it makes the rest of the brain better able to carry out the task.


Don’t be afraid!

Fear is a worry that something dreadful will occur in the future. In the case of recovery from dire health conditions, it is the fear of reoccurrence. That worry isn’t unreasonable, but often it is excessive relative to the real danger.

When this occurs, it stresses the individual and makes them anxious. This in turn, produces physiological reactions similar to those that occur when something is truly wrong that requires a response. But nothing is really wrong. The unneeded pro-inflammatory responses when nothing is actually wrong can itself induce damage. This, to some extent makes the fears come true. This can create a self-fulfilling fear cycle.

Mindfulness shifts perspective from the future to now where everything actually is well. When we’re mindful in the present moment we are not fearing the future, we’re not ruminating about the past, instead we’re focused on how we’re feeling and what we’re experience right now. Since everything is fine at this present time, we can relax and distress.

In today’s Research News “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR(BC)) in Breast Cancer: Evaluating Fear of Recurrence (FOR) as a Mediator of Psychological and Physical Symptoms in a Randomized Control Trial (RCT)”

it is demonstrated that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction reduces  the fear of reoccurrence in breast cancer survivors and this, in turn, reduces stress and anxiety. This mindfulness induced reduction in the fear, stress and anxiety produces improved physical functioning.

Mind and body are amazingly interconnected. Today’s study shows how altering the mind by focusing it in the present moment with MBSR can result in favorable physical functioning. This is one of the many ways that mindfulness improves both physical and psychological health.