A Main Line Doctor Explains How Mindfulness Benefits Everyday Life

Dr. Mark Friedlander gives professional advice on staying mindful and practicing ways to combat stress and emotional reactivity.

Sorry, Dorothy. Three clicks won’t work. It’s going to take practice.

Each morning, Apple Watch owners can receive a reminder to take a moment for mindfulness. In “Reflect” mode, a wearer is instructed to “simply breathe and open up your senses to your surroundings. What do you see, hear or feel?”

Could it really be that simple? Mindful.org describes mindfulness as “the basic human ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing.” A 2019 story in The Guardian titled “The Mindfulness Conspiracy” delved into a $4 billion industry that accounts for more than 60,000 books now available on Amazon with a variation of “mindfulness” in their titles. So apparently, there’s a little more to it than that.

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Dr. Mark Friedlander says there’s ample evidence to suggest that mindfulness does help combat stress and emotional reactivity. “But it takes hours and hours of practice,” says Friedlander, chief medical officer of Universal Health Services’ Behavioral Health Division in Springfield, “not just two to three tries as guided by an Apple Watch.”

Mindfulness can have a notable impact on managing chronic and surgical pain, reducing depression, stress and anxiety, and treating severe chronic conditions. “[Mindfulness can be] an adjunct to medical treatment,” Friedlander says.

Whereas traditional psychology once strove to understand the things that tripped people up, mindfulness accepts that those things are there, dealing with them head-on instead of rehashing their cause. “It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting,” says Friedlander.

mindfulness apple watch
Apple Watch says, “Reflect.”

So forgive yourself for messing up—for having a chronic issue or an emotional trigger—and move on. “It’s like learning the piano,” Friedlander says. “You may know that pressing the white and black keys is playing, but you’re not making music after the first lesson—or the 10th.”

Over the years, many studies have detected legitimate changes in brain function with mindfulness practices—and they can come in a matter of weeks. The more you practice, the more significant the results. “The folks who do well take a disciplined approach [to mindfulness], practicing once a day, every day,” says Friedlander.

“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”
—Dr. Mark Friedlander

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Mindfulness can also be helpful in daily life. Friedlander recommends practices that focus on coping with grief and stress by targeting breathing and muscle tension. “But when symptoms interfere with functioning, get professional help,” he says.
So it really could be that simple—except when it’s not.


Related: Set Aside February (and Every Month) for Self-Care in the Main Line

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