SMART Program Can Help Wheelchair Users Avoid Anxiety and DepressionWe all have moments of despair and anxiety. The pace of life and technology, it only seems to be getting worse. We function more and more in “default” mode and are not taking the time to stop and experience all the positive things in life. Being a wheelchair user just adds a whole different level of complexity to daily life, which can make it more difficult to see the “good”.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and there is a new “tool” to help decrease stress and increase quality of life. SMART (Stress Management and Resilience Training) program was researched and developed by Dr. Amit Sood, Executive Director at the lobal Center for Resiliency and Wellbeing at Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN. He grew up and received his training in medicine in India, so was aware of the benefits of meditation, but was initially focused on cancer research.

After moving to Minnesota, he was astounded by the level of unhappiness in the US. He found the level of depression, anxiety and stress to be about the same as was in India despite the vastly different standard of life. This inspired him to investigate why the brain tends to focus on the bad and find ways to focus more on the good.

Dr. Sood found that our brain functions in the “default” mode or mind wandering 60-80% of the day which worked well when the first humans were trying to survive. When in this mode, the brain strengthens pathways that allow for jealousy, comparison, and negativity. When we live with more attention to details and intent, the super power of your brain, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), is strengthened. The PFC, the very front part of your brain is the “executive”, the stop and think, part of the brain.

The main idea of the SMART program is that if we learn to harness this power, we can learn new habits, strengthen positive pathways in your brain to become happier, less stressed, and healthier humans. While meditation/mindfulness has been proven to work, it is nearly impossible to practice enough every day and be non-judgmental to reap the benefits unless you are a Buddhist monk.

So Dr. Sood researched and found simple short ways to “sprinkle” mindfulness, gratitude, compassion into your day in 2 to 15 minutes. For example, his 5-3-2 plan:

1) Upon waking, before getting out of bed, think about 5 people. A specific memory or detail for each one and silently thank them.

2) Spend the first 3 minutes after you enter your house like you haven’t seen them for a month and don’t try to change them.

3) The first 2 seconds you see someone, silently wish them well.

Easy right? Dr. Sood’s book is available at Amazon.com for $17 and is an easy, humorous, interesting read. He is working on an audio version soon. Here’s a link to his TED talk in 2015 – https://youtu.be/KZIGekgoaz4

Jenn Wolff
Board Member & Advocacy Committee Chair
Iowa Chapter, United Spinal Association