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Study shows mindfulness helps with stress

A recent study that suggests mindfulness can cut stress and anxiety comes as no surprise to Toronto-area family lawyer Nicolle Kopping-Pavars.

Researchers at the Georgetown University Medical Center tested a group of anxious people after exposing them either to a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course or another form of stress management education.

Those on the MBSR program, which included lessons on subjects such as meditation, breath awareness and gentle yoga, reported feeling less stressed than those in the control course, which focused on diet, exercise, sleep and time management. The MBSR group also had lower levels of stress hormones in their blood, the study found.  

“It may have surprised me more than two years ago, but not anymore,” Kopping-Pavars tells AdvocateDaily.com. “I’ve been on a personal development journey for a long time, but I only really found mindfulness about two years ago.”  

As part of her own continuous curious exploration, Kopping Pavars, principal of NKP Law, recently took an MBSR course with a former lawyer turned mindfulness advocate.

“It’s a fantastic course that was developed for people suffering with anxiety and stress,” says Kopping-Pavars, who has also begun offering her own mindfulness course developed and designed specifically for lawyers.

“Stress is a huge problem, particularly for lawyers. You can’t eliminate it, but you can control the response you have to it. When you figure out that stress is only what we make it to be, then you can have a better life, and start living, rather than just surviving in a chaotic world,” she adds.

Kopping-Pavars says mindfulness techniques help people gain control over their emotional responses by understanding the way their bodies and brains work. By developing an awareness of processes such as the virtually automatic “fight or flight” response activated by the amygdala in the brain, they can stop it from being triggered as often.  

“When the amygdala is activated, all the other parts of your brain go into a static mode,” Kopping-Pavars says. “When you have more control, it gives the brain space, and you can think about things more rationally. You want to prevent the amygdala from hijacking things.”

In an interview with Time magazine, Elizabeth Hoge, a professor of psychiatry and the lead author on the MBSR paper, said she had encountered “some real skepticism in the medical community about meditation and mindfulness meditation.” Kopping-Pavars says she gets the same kind of reactions from colleagues at the bar.

“We’re trained to be skeptical and not to take things at face value,” she says.

 However, she says that kind of attitude can prove beneficial when it comes to these techniques.  

 “Mindfulness wants you to be skeptical and curious. The people who it works best for are those who say ‘I don’t know if this is going to work,’ but they agree to come in with an open mind and try it out,” Kopping-Pavars says. “If you go in thinking ‘this is going to be my salvation,’ then it’s not going to turn out that way because you’ve already passed judgment. It’s a deliberate process.”

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