When you speak to Carrie Sammarco, DrNP, FNP-C, MSCN, about mindfulness, her excitement about the topic is evident.
Carrie is a nurse practitioner who has been working with people who have multiple sclerosis (MS) since 1999. She is passionate about her work with MS patients and constantly strives to learn new approaches to improve their care.
A few years ago, Carrie read an article that linked mindfulness with a reduction in anxiety for people living with MS. Her immediate thought was, “how can I use this as a tool to help my patients?”
After she enrolled in a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course, Carrie noticed a difference in the way she approached a variety of situations in her own life. The mindfulness skills she learned inspired her to create a drop-in group focused on mindfulness, which has grown into one of the most popular programs at her MS center since its launch in 2011.
Are you interested in incorporating the power of mindfulness into your daily life or sharing this information with a loved one? If so, read on for key teachings that Carrie said benefited her and her patients.
It’s not only about MS.Carrie’s mindfulness group was designed to provide and strengthen skills for coping with change. “MS rarely comes up in this course, because that’s not what it’s about,” said Carrie. Instead, the course focuses on how to be more present in daily life, and how to respond rather than react when challenging situations arise.
It’s about room to breathe.“Many people spend too much time thinking about things that may or may not ever happen. It’s important to give ourselves space, to breathe between what is actually going on versus what our minds have created,” said Carrie.
An acronym can help in life.STOP is one of the strategies taught in Carrie’s class. It stands for stop, take a breath, observe and be open, and proceed to the next step. Carrie noted, “We can’t always control situations, but we can control how we respond to them and stop helps us take that important pause before we decide and act.”
It always goes back to breathing.There are many techniques taught in her course, but breath awareness is often where it returns. Keeping it simple helps remind everyone that mindfulness is not about perfection.
Mindfulness can change your relationship to medical care.Mindfulness and meditation can be a part of holistic patient care by supporting other aspects of an overall care plan. For example, Carrie’s mindfulness course helped one patient apply techniques to make him more comfortable with getting into an MRI machine. Another patient used a mindfulness app to help her meditate during treatment.
Check in with the whole body.Carrie recommends getting comfortable with the idea of “body scan” meditation. “Often when someone is struggling with pain, they become so aware of the body parts in pain and only pay attention to that part when it is ‘yelling.’ Instead try and check in with the collective body as a whole.”
Mindfulness won’t make you perfect.“I am not perfect,” laughed Carrie. “You have to cut yourself some slack. Mindfulness and meditation is a lifelong practice, and we need to continually work to develop our skill.”
Whether you are trying to find ways to soften the stress of hospital care, or you would like some tools to deal with aggression or anxiety, mindfulness may be able to help.
Incorporating mindfulness into your life.Carrie hopes these tips will help others see the potential in practicing mindfulness to achieve more calm in their busy lives. “I am a true believer in the power of mindfulness to improve the management of everyday life, and I’ve seen firsthand how it helps my patients cope with a chronic disease,” said Carrie.
To find mindfulness services Carrie recommends in the New York City area, visit GatherMS.com, a website that connects people with MS and their support partners with existing services that can help manage the unpredictability of MS.
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