An interview with Mitsuko Ito on mindfulness and well-being

Mitsuko Ito, ECE Admin Professional III, gives insight into how mindfulness can relieve stress and create a greater sense of self, especially during the current COVID-19 global pandemic.

Q1 – Can you define what mindfulness is to you and why it is important?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., a molecular biologist and meditation teacher who brought Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) to the world, “mindfulness” is an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”

For me personally, simply put, it is a quiet exploration and observation of what is going on in my mind, body and beyond.  Initially what led me to this was the desire to overcome depression, anxiety and chronic pain.  Thankfully, with learning and practice, I have been able to change the trajectory of my life, and I am now in a much more empowered state.

Q2 – What advice do you have for people to stay mindful?

There are many benefits to being mindful.

  • More peaceful heart
  • Reduced stress and pain
  • Better relationships
  • Clearer thinking
  • Increased productivity
  • Better immune system
  • Even increasing lung capacity (says David Able, COVID-19 survivor)
  • And so much more!

Getting clear on the goals of the “why” you would want to practice mindfulness can be helpful.
Having an accountability partner, or a group program to support each other, can also be very supportive.

Q3 – How do you manage stress at work and home?

At Home:  Having moved many times over the years, being an ethnic minority immigrant in many places we have lived, having four children, three of which are now teens, and other factors have forced me to seek effective stress management tools.  As of now, my main go-to is something called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) Tapping.  “Tapping” is one of the newer mind-body tools that has developed in the 90s that has worked very well for me. What research is revealing is that Tapping quickly affects the amygdala (fear response), while also having the effects of vegas nerve stimulation which supports the parasympathetic (calming) response.

At Work:  The WorkDay transition last summer was admittedly very stressful, but then this has led me to share Tapping with my colleagues! (And now with COVID-19, I get to share Tapping again!) Otherwise, my workplace has been a good and safe space for me.  If I did get stressed at work, mostly all I needed to do was to close my eyes and do some slow deep breathing (along with occasional Tapping and yes, some chocolate….).

Q4 – How do you think mindfulness relates to the current pandemic we are in?

Mindfulness is surely going to be beneficial as we navigate this new territory.  COVID-19 has caused quite a bit of shock, and we are still facing so much uncertainty.  It is not difficult to feel fearful at one point or another, or even on an ongoing basis.  I suspect that many of us, if not all, have been running higher on cortisol and adrenaline than pre-COVID-19 times.  This is a normal survival response for the short term, but not helpful in the long term. Accessing, processing, and resolving chaotic emotions continues to be important, however, since we are hindered from going to gyms or getting massages, not even be able to get together with our regular support network, we are forced to take this process upon ourselves.  Mindfulness, meditation and other inner exploration tools are just the perfect tools at this time. (Tapping adds a kinetic component to it.). These exercises will help us move from the smaller/darker circle towards the larger/lighter circle, in the diagram below.  The sooner we can start attending to this, the better for each of us, and for our community.

For those new to mindfulness, perhaps consider this as an opportunity?? … now we get to learn the new skills of going inwards! (…?) If sitting and contemplating quietly is not your cup of tea, Yoga, Taiichi, Qigong, Breathing exercises, EFT Tapping are considered mindfulness/meditation with movements, therefore will still be extremely beneficial (with even more benefits, from my point of view.). All these give us a way in learning to self-engineer our own health and well-being.  Once you get a hang of it, it is really quite empowering.

Q5 – Do you believe mindfulness extends beyond reducing stress?

I absolutely do.  Reduced stress is the primary benefit, which then goes on to have a cascade of positive side effects.  Hormone and neurotransmitter productions will be changed (i.e. lowered cortisol and adrenaline), the way our physiology operates will also be altered (i.e. improved sleep, better digestion).  The ways we think and operate will also change (i.e. more compassion, better decision making and so on).   In short, it could be life changing.  You will often hear this from those who have hit rock bottom in their lives and have decided to pick up this new habit and life style.

Q6 – In high-stress environments such as Georgia Tech, how do you propose students/faculty practice being mindful at a larger scale?

First of all, I know GT has been making many good efforts but we could be promoting Mindfulness, self-awareness, mind-body connections, moreThe Resilience program that Sonia Alvarez-Robinson leads is fabulous program and deserves recognition. Often, meditation and mindfulness is utilized by high performers such as athletes and successful businessmen, but may not be as widely talked about. Interviewing faculty/students who have successfully been practicing mindfulness would serve as a great inspiration.  More students, staff, and faculty would hopefully take advantage the campus offerings.

Secondly, I would love for GT to become a more “trauma informed” institution.  We are a public university, and now with COVID-19, even more so, it is possible that we see higher anxiety rates in the coming years.  We at GT take pride in our research and academics, and service to the world. Our people have to be well, in order to function.  Understanding how adverse experiences affects our learning and performance and ways to overcome it would be valuable.

Thirdly, along that line, it is my belief that traditional therapy, although great and valuable, is no longer sufficient in this day and age, especially when we know there are additional effective interventions. Therefore, I would like for our leadership to get serious about seeking additional ways to support the wellbeing of our campus.  Personally, I believe that EFT Tapping to be just the right tool at this time.  It is quite simple to learn and to start practicing.  Research is showing that cortisol levels reduces at an astonishing 40 percent.  It is my hope that Self-Help Tapping can be offered campus wide to be shared with all students and staff, so they can start taking care of themselves better.  Also potentially have Tapping offered/required to our advising/counseling staff.  (This could help shorten durations and costs of counseling sessions.)

In the end, it goes without saying that I am so honored and proud to be a part of our GT community.  Each of the leaders that I have had the opportunity to interact in one way or another has been heart-centered and solution oriented. This is a unique place where wise, progressive and open-mind thinkers are abundant.  Mindfulness is truly necessary and needs to be further promoted and practiced.  Taking it one more step forward, I would love for the leadership to consider looking into EFT Tapping as one cutting edge mindfulness tool.  The message it can send out to the world will be a powerful one.  We have the opportunity to be truly the leader in the whole person education, and I am excited about this possibility.

<Resources on Mindfulness>

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<Resources on EFT Tapping>

<Resources on Tapping for COVID-19>