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Ask the Expert: ​Psychiatrist Dr. Nik Grujich on mindfulness

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days, especially as people seek to find more fulfillment in their jobs. Last week, Dr. Nik Grujich joined our Ask the Expert webchat to explain to our users what exactly mindfulness is and how to achieve it. Dr. Grujich is a staff psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and an associate of the Frederick W. Thompson Anxiety Disorders Centre. His primary clinical focus is the treatment and management of mood and anxiety disorders through evidence-based psychotherapies and pharmacotherapy.

Here are the highlights from our user webchat with Dr. Grujich. For our French users, we ran a similar webchat with Geneviève Desautels, which you can access here. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous and confidential.

Defining mindfulness

QUESTION — “What does mindfulness mean?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “The best way to think of it is the ‘practice of paying attention.'”

QUESTION — “I hear in the media mindful eating, mindful walking, mindful listening….what exactly are they referring to?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “If I’m walking mindfully, all of my attention is on that action. So my thoughts are focused on how my feet feel when they touch the ground, noticing how my body feels as I move. Mindfully eating means all my attention is on my food, how it tastes, how it looks, the texture, the temperature. When non-related thoughts enter my mind, I allow the thoughts to pass ‘like clouds’, and I bring my attention back to my focus.”

Methods of being mindful

QUESTION — “If there was one thing I should be doing every day to increase my mindfulness and awareness, what would it be?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “There are many, many different mindfulness techniques. I would start reading about mindfulness or participating in a mindfulness group, and once you have tried different exercises, you will use the one(s) that fit you best.”

QUESTION — “Can we begin learning the skills of mindfulness today? Would it be possible to receive some take away strategies to start practicing?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “A good starting point is the ‘3 minute breathing space’. For one minute, close your eyes and focus all your attention to the sounds you hear. If thoughts enter your mind, try your best to draw your attention back to the sense of sound. For the next minute, focus your attention to your breath, feel the air enter your nose and expand your chest, then notice the exhalation. For the last minute, you will bring your attention back to your surroundings and focus on the sounds in the room. You can find many different meditation exercise online. Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn has excellent books and CDs you may find helpful.”

Mindfulness for preventative health

QUESTION — “Can mindfulness be used as a preventative tool? Has it been shown to help prevent any diseases or illnesses? What are the positives of mindfulness when we talk about physical health?” 

Dr. Nik Grujich — “Yes. Mindfulness can be effective at prevention of illness. For example, there are studies that demonstrate that the practice of mindfulness can reduce the likelihood of having a relapse of depression. There are some studies that indicate mindfulness can help regulate blood pressure.”

 Mindfulness in the workplace

QUESTION — “How can employers encourage their staff to incorporate mindfulness into their workday?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “Share with them the evidence that supports mindfulness as a skill that can improve people’s quality of life, stress management, happiness and physical health. Perhaps your organization may wish to start a mindfulness group?”

Mindfulness and mental health

QUESTION — “My mother is starting to show signs of dementia. Has mindfulness been shown to help people suffering with those type of illnesses? Does mindfulness strengthen the mind?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “Mindfulness can help people cope with stress. Broadly speaking, stress is not good for our health. So mindfulness is good for our health. Will it prevent dementia or change the outcome when someone has a diagnosis of dementia, probably not, however it can help with quality of life. Caregivers would benefit form the practice as well.”

Using mindfulness to conquer fear

QUESTION — “I’m absolutely terrified of flying. Can mindfulness help me cope with traveling by plane?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “Sounds like you may have a specific phobia. There are effective treatments for this including medications and or therapy. The therapy that would be most effective is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. Once you have treated the phobia, mindfulness may be a secondary treatment to help cope with the residual anxiety.”

Using mindfulness to improve sleep

QUESTION — “What is a good exercise to do before bed for a better sleep?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “Physical activity is helpful for sleep, but it should end a few hours before bed time. There are many good mindfulness exercise you can engage in before bed, including the body scan, visualization, breathing space. For sleep, its always good to have a routine. If you take a warm shower or bath, you can practice mindfulness during this time as well. In the positive psychology literature they talk about the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal. Many suggestions, you have to choose what works best for you!”

How children can use mindfulness

QUESTION — “Should children be using mindfulness techniques? And which?”

Dr. Nik Grujich — “Yes! They are beginning to include mindfulness in the general curriculum for kids at school. The hope is that the practice will provide kids with more emotional resilience. Mindfulness exercises for children need to be age appropriate – often shorter in duration and with more flexibility. There should be a focus on a sensation, for example, tasting food and talking about their experience.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Dr. Nik Grujich, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in November 6 at noon EST to chat with caregiving expert Denise Brown. She’ll be answering questions about taking care of yourself while caring for others. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us.

What is Ask the Expert?

Our Ask the Expert sessions allow our users to have regular access to our experts in real time, which allows them to have their pressing questions answered. This opportunity provides our users with practical and easily implemented tips to help them make real changes in their lives. To learn more, don’t hesitate to book a demo.