Humans have always struggled to deal with pain, anxiety and chronic stress.

Learned women and men who study molecular biology and neurology share their knowledge about understanding and overcoming stress, anxiety, depression and pain.

There are times, according to these medical leaders, that some members of our world will need pain treatment, approved medicines or access to professional psychological support systems.

As well, there are times when the chemical known as oxygen is the best prescription. Breathing is involuntary; however, when individuals faces stressful situations, deliberate routines often bring their bodies and minds back to relaxation. Chemically, it is breathing through deliberate practice, or exercise, that brings on the self-made chemicals to improve thinking and overall wellbeing.

In survey data, the Pew Research Center notes that anxiety and depression are young adults’ response when asked which problems are the most serious among their peers. This author of the Pew study is convinced that if society, through its adult members, educates young children and adults about the importance of breathing, relaxation and mindfulness for individual well-being, most people would do well in the battle against anxiety and depression while avoiding the use of unregulated prescriptions.

Before the explosion of prescription opioids for pain, doctors were attempting to understand non-additive medicines and techniques to combat the use of addictive drugs. It was not always physical pain that compelled people to look for any means to end their pain, often it was stress and anxiety which caused the condition of desperately seeking a solution: escape from the pain.

While the misuse of opioids was becoming a national crisis, there were medical professionals already offering other ways to deal with stress, anxiety or physical pain. One such professional was Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has worked to join medical science with studied meditative techniques.

Kabat-Zinn, with a doctorate in molecular biology from MIT, coined the term “mindfulness” as a method of intersecting mainstream medicine with stress reduction through natural techniques. His work began in the 1970s and continues today. Mindfulness is a way to focus on the present, to use the power of the breath to bring life to its natural center, not allowing irrationality to trigger harmful anxiety or exacerbated physical pain.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “mindfulness” as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

There are many simple methods of practicing mindfulness to calm anxiety and even to lessen physical pain.

Some simple techniques include the practice of deep breathing and visualizing love ones in the one’s mind. Begin with a deep breath (four seconds in), followed by a pause, and then pushing the breath out by tightening the stomach.

A second-round might include the same breathing method and closed eyes; the third, breathing with eyes closed and seeing a loved one smile. Repeat and repeat, letting the present moment become what is reality – calm, natural body rhythm.

The power of adding oxygen required for living with the discontinuance of thoughts of the past or the future is an antidote to stress and a reliever of some physical pain.

Mindfulness matters because it works for everyone, especially those living with too many stimuli – which seems to be all of us these days, living with the realities of COVID-19.

A simple web-search with the word “mindfulness” will find plenty of sites to expand the practice, including Kabat-Zinn’s own site (www.mindfulnessscds.com). The sites are good for those who can go it alone – and, understandably, not everyone can do so. There is also an abundance of support for many people seeking help and able to reach out.

Most people are living life with some degree of problems; some seem to have more than their share, and many understand the power of not trying to “go it alone.” Families working to understand addiction, recovery or overly-stressed loved ones – and who want to help – are too often stressed beyond their capacity to seek assistance. It is good to seek help, and there are great organizations to support people, right here in Cambria County.

The Cambria County Drug Coalition is made up of representatives from sectors of our communities as defined by the National Drug-Free Communities model. Sectors include law enforcement, drug treatment and recovery, education, health care, business, faith and media. All members come together to work toward making positive change in the creation of drug-free communities across Cambria County.

Among the coalition’s initiatives is its desire to share education and support citizens of the county. At the coalition website – www.cambriacountydrugcoalition.org – readers will find plenty of supportive information including resources and ways to seek help: 1-800-662-HELP (4357), 2-1-1 support line and Cambria County Drug and Alcohol Program at 814-536-5388.

Please use the coalition’s website, Facebook page and Twitter account (@CambriaCDC) as a resource and source of support. 

Jerry Zahorchak is the education division chair at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, the former Pennsylvania secretary of education and a Cambria County Drug Coalition board member. He holds a bachelor of science from St. Francis University, a master of education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a doctorate in education from Penn State University. He also has had training at the Duquesne University School of Law and the Harvard University’s Milton Academy.

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