NORFOLK, Va. - At the start of spring, the coronavirus pandemic was in full swing. As the virus spread across the country, it forced adjustment to professional and personal lives to meet the new demands of a physically and socially distant environment. These changes and restrictions affect the availability of daily conveniences increasing the possibility of unusual stressors.

In behavioral health, mindfulness-based stress reduction training has gained increased attention in civilian and military medical settings. These programs help people improve strength and resilience by cultivating a new way of paying attention and interacting with one’s experience, typically referred to as mindfulness. Although there are a variety of definitions, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the founders of the modern mindfulness movement, has emphasized that mindfulness training develops one’s awareness of the present moment without judgment, openly accepting thoughts and feelings as they are, at the moment. By developing mindfulness skills, people create opportunities to experience relief from stress and engage in restorative self-care.

April of 2020 presented an opportunity to apply training in mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques to help staff at Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) New England find new ways to deal with stress amidst the pandemic. Research on mindfulness has shown that having a regular practice has been associated with reduced signs of chronic stress, such as improved focus, decreased job burnout, improved quality of sleep, and relationships. Given these benefits, Lt. Jonathan W. Murphy, Medical Service Corps, initiated a mindfulness program to help his shipmates learn more about mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

In collaboration with the command’s Caregiver Occupational Stress Control team, Murphy designed a virtual mindfulness program called, “Mindfulness with Murphy.”

“This program consisted of live training sessions offered two times per week, intended to reach both novices and experts,” described Murphy. “Each session includes an overview of the basic purpose and elements of mindfulness practice as well as a 10-to-15-minute guided mindfulness activity.”

The program is open to civilian and military staff assigned to Naval Station Newport and other clinics within NMRTC New England.

Since its inception, the program has conducted 30 sessions, averaging about four-to-eight people per session. It is open to civilian and military staff assigned to Naval Station Newport and other clinics within NMRTC New England.

The next step is to expand this program to the surrounding base and tenant commands. Being a web-based session allows the expansion too far greater numbers of Service Members well beyond the borders of the Newport clinic and as the program grows, the team expected to extend the reach to other commands throughout the New England region. This expansion will include more traditional, long-form, mindfulness training sessions, as well as additional brief sessions offered throughout the week.

As an avid mindfulness practitioner, Murphy expressed excitement to see this initiative gain momentum.

“The goal is to provide our Sailors with the tools to integrate mindfulness into their coping strategies,” said Murphy.

To learn more about Mindfulness, see the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center’s ‘Relax Relax’ website for free guided mindfulness activities at https://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmcphc/health-promotion/psychological-emotional-wellbeing/relax-relax/pages/index.html.

Connecticut Media Group