August 11, 2021
With the continuing uncertainty of COVID-19, learning how to live in a world full of ever-changing situations has become vital to achieving and maintaining mental and physical well-being.
That’s where the wellness technique mindfulness comes in. According to Venice Family Clinic Advisory Board member Bill Resnick, MD, MBA, mindfulness is the ability to be attentive to the present with intention and without judgement – to simply “be” in the moment.
“Wellness practices can be just as effective as medicine, and sometimes more so,” said Resnick, who is a psychiatrist and certified mindfulness teacher. “If skillfully taught, mindfulness can be incorporated into trauma-informed care and preventions, which Venice Family Clinic’s Behavioral Health department practices, and can lead to less stress and anxiety, better focus, and more. Some research has even shown that mindfulness practice rewires the brain’s physical structure to build resilience and support well-being.”
Not only does Resnick serve on our Advisory Board (and was previously on our Board of Directors), but he has donated his time as a volunteer psychiatrist at the Clinic for the past 19 years, offering medication management and supportive psychotherapy. He established the Clinic’s relationship with the UCLA Psychiatry Residency Training Program and continues to work with the Clinic’s social work interns, teaching them about psychiatry and psychopharmacology. In 2013, Resnick and his siblings made an endowed gift to the Sandy Segal Youth Health Center at Culver City middle and high schools, where the Clinic provides medical and behavioral health services. The health center was named after their mother, who served as the high school’s nurse for 30 years.
Here Resnick offers some tips about mindfulness that anyone can use.
“People think of mindfulness as a luxury, but it can be helpful for anyone,” Resnick said. “The historical Buddha was a very ecumenical teacher, and he looked at teaching mindfulness to everyone, even within the caste system. It doesn’t have to be only available to people who have a lot of time or resources.”
There are many free or low-cost resources to help guide you in your mindfulness journey, including mobile apps like Headspace and Ten Percent Happier, videos on YouTube, online communities, and organizations such as InsightLA, which offers several donation-based classes and drop-in meditation sessions now primarily through Zoom.
Resnick gives his patients this five-step exercise, easily remembered with the acronym SOBER, that can be used anytime you’re having strong feelings, like an urge or a trigger:
“This technique is portable, and people can do it on their own,” Resnick said. “When you’re having these feelings, be gentle with yourself. Take a moment to scan your body in your mind, notice what’s happening and move to another part of the body if it’s uncomfortable, like if there is tightness in the chest or fluttering in the belly. Recognize how strong emotions are embodied and investigate what’s going on, getting curious and intimate with these sensations and allowing them to be there without judgment – and without trying to push them away.”
Resnick says that mindfulness can be used to prevent relapse for many kinds of addictions, including food addiction, and that he has successfully used it with patients in the early stages of recovery from drug and alcohol use. But anyone under any kind of stress might find these techniques useful.
“Between stimulus and response there’s a space, and in that space we have a choice, and in that choice lies our freedom and our growth,” Resnick said, referring to a common teaching in mindfulness classes. “People typically react to things without necessarily pausing first. Being able to see the space and choose how we respond is mindful. The SOBER exercise is a tool to help us create that space.”
While being mindful isn’t going to eliminate the factors that lead to stress, Resnick says that for most people, including Venice Family Clinic’s patients who are often under a high level of stress, even a small reduction can be helpful.
“Mindfulness isn’t going to make stress go away, but if you can respond with more balance and equanimity, you may have better interpersonal relationships and make better decisions for yourself,” he said.
For example, if someone says something to you that feels aggressive or insulting, your normal automatic reaction might be to retaliate with words that are equally harsh, adding fuel to a conflict. But if you are able to take some time before responding, through a mindfulness exercise like the SOBER process, you might be able to diffuse the situation.
Resnick says that resisting pain, both physical and emotional, can make things worse. Through mindfulness practice, we learn to appreciate impermanence and how to be with painful experiences, though we don’t have to necessarily make friends with them.
“Pain exists, and if you try to deny it, you’ll create more anxiety,” he said. “Mindfulness allows us to open up to pain, feel it and the sensations it creates in our bodies, and get through the experience. The only way past is through.”