Hi, I’m Dr. Kimberly Albarran, PT, DPT of Hope, Health, Healing. I’ve been a physical therapist since 2013. I specialize in helping those with ongoing chronic pain start the healing process through physical therapy and functional nutrition coaching. I listen to you, review your health history, and medical journey to provide the best, compassionate, and most accurate care for your needs. I customize recipe books, meal plans, treatments and movement/exercise programs to your specific needs and goals. I work with clients individually, one-one, and collectively through my group wellness courses. I help you understand the basis of chronic pain, chronic pain conditions, and how you can start healing through my four pillars of health: Mindfulness, Nutrition, Sleep and Movement.
For this article, I will focus on mindfulness.
Let’s first look at the definition of Mindfulness from Oxford Languages: Mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, also used as a therapeutic modality.
Now let’s take a look at what happens to our bodies when we are in a state of stress also called Fight or Flight. How we perceive our external world through our thoughts and emotions, such as anger, frustration and fear, can cause our brain to perceive that we are being threatened. Those thoughts and external stressors are our lions. The limbic system, our emotional brain center, takes over and activation of amygdala occurs. The amygdala has projections that communicate via the stress response to activate the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or H-P-A axis, which communicates with the adrenal glands and releases adrenaline and cortisol. This is great in the short-term and immediate crisis, but for many of us this is how we live day to day, especially individuals with chronic pain.
Sometimes we are not able to change our external environments, but we can change our thoughts and reactions to what is happening in order to reduce stress, while increasing joy and happiness. When we have high levels of prolonged stress, the hormones cortisol and adrenaline rise and can cause muscle tension, digestive dysfunction, increase blood pressure and heart rate, increase blood sugar and inflammation, cause brain fog, lowers your immune system response to fight infections, while increasing inflammation and your risk of weight gain, pain, illness and disease (dis-ease). When we change your thinking to happier positive thoughts, we have a change in your brain physiology and hormone production, i.e., you increase your dopamine and serotonin levels and lower your stress hormones, which improves mood, energy, provides a sense of relaxation and well-being and can improve your memory, focus and concentration and overall health.
Here are some tips that can be used to help with becoming more mindful. There are many different techniques, so this is not a one size fits all. Remember like anything, it takes time and consistency to make changes, it is important we give ourselves love, patience and forgiveness as we are going through this process. Strive for progress not perfection!
Step one: Mindfulness. Be aware of your thoughts “You can’t always control situations, but you can control your reaction to them.” For example you might be working on a project or cleaning your house and tell yourself, “I am so overwhelmed, I have so much to do.” Be mindful of these thoughts, stop and take a break, breath slowly and think to yourself, “I am safe. I can get through this one step at a time.” Or “What’s most important? I’ll start there, then do the next thing after.” Bringing our thoughts to what we can do at this moment.
Step two: Meditation. Being still and in the moment, performing deep breathing techniques, body scan meditation, praying and devotionals or gentle movement with breathing such as Tai Chi or Qigong. Meditation trains our brain to focus on the here and now, reducing worry and fear. Stop and do simple breathing techniques by closing your eyes, breathing in your nose while counting for 4 seconds, holding your breath at the top for 1 second and then breathing out of your mouth while counting for 6 seconds, or scanning your body to sense for areas of tension can help reset our minds and reduce tension and pain.
Step three: Have an attitude of Gratitude. Being thankful for what we have, what we are capable of and able to do. One simple thing to do every morning and/or every night is to write down 3-5 things you are grateful for. Research is showing that individuals using a gratitude journal and focusing more on the positive things in life have more sense of fulfillment, peace, improved relationships, and a greater desire to give back to others.
Remember we cannot be angry and grateful at the same time. What we choose is up to us, being aware of our thoughts, feelings, emotions and bodily sensations is the first step to being able to change and then finding a mindfulness practice we enjoy will allow us to create more positive thoughts, feelings, emotions and bodily sensations.
Let’s Recap the Benefits of Mindfulness
Improved positive thought output
Reduced stress response and stress hormone output to help with improved insulin sensitivity, improve metabolic function and with weight reduction
Reduction in blood pressure and heart rate reducing risk of cardiovascular disease
Increased production of feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine which improve mood
Improved Immune System function = Less inflammation and less Illness
Improved activation of the Parasympathetic Nervous System = Improved digestion, reduced pain and muscle tension, improved sleep
This article is not a substitute for medical care. These are only tools and guidelines and if you have any medical condition and continue to have increased anxiety or depression speak with your health care provider and seek appropriate care.
In Good Health,
Dr. Kimberly Albarran, PT, DPT, CFNP
Hope, Health, Healing
Physical Therapy and Functional Nutrition Coaching
Specializing in Chronic pain
1. Burno, Karen. Can stress cause depression? WebMD looks at the link that exists between the
two and helps you de-clutter your life to improve your stress level.
2. Robbins, Ocean. Gratitude is Good for You. November 7th, 2011.
3. Sears, William, MD and Sears Basile, Erin. The Dr. Sears T5 Wellness Plan: Five Changes in Five
Weeks. BenBella Books, Inc. Dallas, TX. 2017