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The Link Between Mindfulness and Recovery

Mindfulness matters: not just in recovery, but every day.

Just ask Psychologist Leslie Rogers, PhD. When she was a child, she received medical care and didn’t like the way she was treated. That experience drove her to where she is today ― helping patients cope with common emotional reactions to health issues. At Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine, she works primarily with individuals impacted by spinal cord injuries, but her work stems from the importance of mindfulness.

Getting the Support You Need

Whether you have had a life-altering procedure or unexpected injury, being hospitalized can be stressful. “We want to make sure we are addressing that and support you as well as possible,” says Dr. Rogers.

“There’s a lot of evidence that emotional distress can cause physical symptoms or worsen them. By the same token, physical symptoms can create new emotional issues, or exacerbate pre-existing ones. This can lead to a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Rogers. Though it’s not necessarily realistic to completely eliminate emotional distress, you can learn good coping skills and how to better manage your symptoms.

Some types of unhealthy coping behaviors can include:

  • Wishful thinking. You may wish you could go back in time – or form thoughts that are not based on reality.
  • Avoidance. You may try to protect yourself from painful feelings by avoiding addressing the situation, including talking about it.
  • Withdrawal. You may not participate in your usual activities or interests, or interact with others.

“We encourage individuals to accept support from others, seek information about their condition and continue to express themselves,” says Dr. Rogers. “We work to educate individuals to help reduce anxiety.”

Mindfulness Matters

The definition of mindfulness is the state of being conscious or aware. But as Dr. Rogers explains, it’s about being in the present. “We always have such a fast-paced routine. People often spend a lot of time thinking about the past or worrying about the future, and they miss the present,” says Dr. Rogers.

Set on a quiet, wooded campus, Marianjoy intentionally offers accessible gardens, including a Labyrinth Garden. “This is a very healing environment,” says Dr. Rogers. “It can be calming to go in the gardens, look at plants and get some fresh air.”

Here, the Spiritual Care Services Department offers additional therapies, including aromatherapy, meditation, hand massages and therapeutic touch. “Most patients love these offerings because it goes beyond having to talk about things. You don’t have to use words,” she says. These treatment options can help promote mindfulness.

From meditation to breathing techniques, Dr. Rogers deploys a variety of techniques in conjunction with therapy to help patients learn to be in the present. One of the things she stresses is that, in rehabilitation, they are not looking for perfection. “People think they have to perform perfectly in therapy, but there is no such thing as perfection,” she notes. Instead, it’s important to find a place of acceptance.

“In their own way, people come to the realization of how things have changed. We have to meet them where they are at and gently guide them.”

These tactics can be applied to your everyday routine, too. “Feelings are not right or wrong. It’s not always easy, but you can learn new skills,” says Dr. Rogers. “That’s why we call meditation a practice. You’re always practicing and developing.”

See how to bring mindfulness into your routine to help you stay focused on the present.