By Jeanne Léong
Mindfulness strategies and yoga sessions offered by Rutgers University ‒ Camden fall 2019 came at an opportune time, teaching Camden residents skills to improve their physical and mental health and helping cope with issues related to COVID-19 as the pandemic hit New Jersey several months ago later.
The sessions led by two Rutgers ‒ Camden Nursing Professors are part of a study into the lasting benefits of mindfulness meditation on reducing stress and medical and mental health issues.
“Mindfulness is a tool that would be useful in a situation where people are prone to react without necessarily thinking everything,” explains Sheila linz, a Rutgers School of Nursing (Camden) assistant professor.
A psychiatric nurse practitioner and mindfulness session co-facilitator, Linz says mindfulness practice helps guide what people feel and do, making them take a moment to breathe and think before they act.
During sessions offered at Rutgers ‒ Camden Health Centers located at the Housing Authority of Camden’s Ablett Village and Centerville branches, resident participants learned to deal with stressful situations using a method called pause, relax and openness.
Group leaders ask participants to take a deep breath and then breathe out. The simple mindfulness exercise allows participants to pay attention to a non-judgmental moment and stop thinking about the stressful situations they face on a daily basis.
The initial pause stage helps break the autopilot stress cycle reaction. Relaxing the body relaxes the muscles, making it easier to focus on the situation. Becoming open to what matters in the moment allows you to focus on the task at hand.
“Living in a low-income environment is a stressor,” says Kathy jackson, Family Nurse Practitioner and Rutgers ‒ Camden Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing, and Principal Investigator of a study she and Linz conducted on the benefits of mindful practices for reducing stress. “You can use the tool anywhere and anytime in stressful situations to adjust the way you react to the situation. “
Linz, inspired by her former career as a professional photographer, incorporated photography into the sessions. Using a research method known as photovoice, the photograph supplemented the therapy group’s conversations about stressors, such as issues with family members, financial concerns, and violence in the home. the neighborhood.
During the two-hour sessions, researchers at Rutgers ‒ Camden provided an environment for positive social interactions and a space where group members could learn to calm down in groups or on their own. “We wanted to take preventative mental health measures so that you don’t have to deal with these issues after someone has experienced some kind of mental breakdown as a result of depression or anxiety.” , explains Linz.
A professional photographer from New York City volunteered to provide a photography tutorial to help attendees take photos to show what is causing stress in their lives.
Safety is one of their major concerns. A participant shared a photo of bullets pierced through a window during a shootout in her neighborhood.
“The photovoice research method allows people to tell their story and make changes in their lives to create a new narrative,” says Linz.
Participants took photos of what helps them reduce stress, sharing images including decorative elements in their homes and colorful flowers on a group trip to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pa.
The visit to the botanical garden exposed participants to sights and sounds that they are unfamiliar with in their neighborhood.
“We all respond to aesthetics,” says Linz. “We all react to what’s going on around us, and when we are in crowded, ugly, concrete environments, it affects us.”
During the three months of mindfulness sessions, Jackson and Linz asked participants about depression, loneliness, their quality of life, and the effects of meditation.
“The techniques we learned helped us relax, clear our minds and pay more attention to different places, not just in the group,” said one participant.
After learning the value of meditation, participants were eager to continue meeting even after the sessions ended in early 2020. Although they could not meet in person, Linz adapted by offering meditations over the phone. for about a month and met one of the participants. individually for distance meditation and therapy sessions.
While the pandemic-related restrictions continued after the meditation and wellness sessions ended, some participants said they applied the coping skills they learned to manage their fears and concerns about COVID. -19 and the problems related to the pandemic.
“When I was stressed by the pandemic,” says another Camden resident, “I felt the sun on my face and the breeze on my skin. I was able to let go of the things that bothered me by focusing on being aware of the present moment.
Jackson and Linz were planning to hold an exhibition of the group’s photos in the Rutgers-Camden Nursing and Science Building in 2020 to give mindful attendees the opportunity to share their stories, but the event was canceled due to the pandemic.
Photos are in print and will be displayed on walls at Rutgers ‒ Camden Health Centers in Ablett Village and Branches in Centerville. Additionally, Jackson and Linz are planning a photography exhibition at the Rutgers School of Nursing ‒ Camden in the fall.