“Mindfulness and Choosing Happiness “ – with Dr. Jeffrey Zahn

Dr. Jeffrey Zahn, an anesthesiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital and author of Choose Happiness: The Perspectivist’s Handbook, joins Dr. Fox to discuss mindfulness, especially as it applies to healthcare and Mount Sinai. He explains what mindfulness is and how to practice it as well as positive psychology and cognitive reframing as well as his own personal background.  

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In this episode, anesthesiologist and author Dr. Jeffrey Zahn discusses mindfulness with Dr. Fox. Mindfulness is a practice of being present and comes from Positive Psychology, which Dr. Zahn explains as the study of habits and aspects of people who deal with problems well. It also depends on the concept of Cognitive Reframing, which essentially means that how you look at a situation determines how you feel about it. Dr. Zahn explains that we can look at an event either as terrible or as something to learn from, and that even if we don’t realize it, we have a choice in how we perceive events. He also explains neuroplasticity, which is the ability of our brains to change how we think, even in adulthood. Changing our thought processes and tendencies requires practice and conscious effort over time, and as Dr. Zahn says, “neurons that fire together wire together.” 

Dr. Zahn and Dr. Fox explain the goal of mindfulness practice, which is not to create a constant state of “bliss or euphoria,” but rather to become more content overall and manage stress better. Dr. Zahn explains that suffering is “part of human life,” but that we don’t need to suffer from the same things “over and over for our whole lives.”  

There are many ways to practice and learn about mindfulness, including training and courses in the practice, meditation, yoga, and many resources online or in books to read from. Dr. Zahn recommends that people simply start with whatever sounds the most comfortable to them. He describes two simple methods that can also help people focus on mindfulness: “STOP” (stop, take a breath, observe, proceed) and “two feet, one breath,” in which you pause, feel your feet on the ground, sense where you are, take a breath, and then move on.  

There are many benefits to reducing stress through mindfulness. These include reduced blood pressure, meaning that patients can better avoid heart disease and hypertension, and lowered cortisol levels, which are hormones released from stress that can increase risk of diabetes and depress the immune system. Because of these benefits, Dr. Zahn and his colleagues are bringing mindfulness training to Mount Sinai for healthcare workers and patients.  

Dr. Jeffrey Zahn is the author of Choose Happiness: The Perspectivist’s Handbook, a book on Practical Perspectivism, and an anesthesiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital. His path to anesthesiology was somewhat unconventional; he attended college for one year before dropping out and working in the restaurant industry for six years, then studied massage therapy before returning to college. He intended to pursue surgery, but ended up in anesthesia instead. Dr. Zahn explains that after becoming an anesthesiologist, working in wellness and mindfulness was natural, because he’s been “living that lifestyle” for his whole life. Dr. Zahn attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and completed a residency in Internal Medicine at the Maine Medical Center and another in Clinical Anesthesiology at Mount Sinai Hospital, and is board certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology.